john west tuna

Sainsbury’s is refusing to remove John West tuna from its shelves

Greenpeace is oversimplifying the tuna debate with its Sainsbury’s attack

The environmental organization has targeted Sainsbury’s again this week by sending its MV Esperanza ship down the Thames into London with the message “Sainsbury’s: stop killing our oceans” emblazoned on the side.

This is arguably a bit unfair, given that Sainsbury’s has consistently topped the tables on seafood sustainability, winning the MSC Supermarket of the Year for the third year running in June, as well as the MSC Fish Counter of the Year award.

As the first supermarket chain to reach 200 individual MSC-labelled products, Sainsbury’s is the UK – if not the world – leader on sustainable fish, according to the MSC.

Greenpeace is upset because Sainsbury’s has thus far refused to bow to its demand to commit to removing John West tuna from shelves if the brand doesn’t stop using “destructive fishing devices” - namely Fishing Aggregate Devices (FADs).

And I must admit, I for one admire the retailer’s stubbornness on this issue.

I did a lot of research into tuna sustainability and fishing methods for our Trouble with Tuna investigation, and came to the conclusion that the issues are not nearly as black and white as Greenpeace would like to make out.

Most other environmental groups believe Greenpeace’s call for a total ban on FADs is not only unnecessary, but fails to address other crucial sustainability considerations, such as good fisheries management.

And while John West is still using FADs in its supply chain, the brand has already committed to a four-year project with WWF-UK to move towards MSC certification for all of its tuna. Alongside parent company Thai Union, it was also at the forefront of a deal to launch a Fisheries Improvement Project in the Indian Ocean earlier this year.

In fact, when I spoke to Greenpeace’s head of oceans last year, he admitted to me that the only reason the group was targeting John West and Thai Union was because they were “the biggest”. Not necessarily because they were the worst.

Now, I’m not saying that John West doesn’t have room to improve on the sustainability front. But I’m growing increasingly tired of campaigns that oversimplify supply chain issues to win public support. Because in the long run, I don’t think that’s answer to the complicated problems we face.

And Sainsbury’s clearly doesn’t either, which is why it has chosen to maintain a dialogue with John West, rather than issuing an ultimatum.

So Sainsbury’s, I salute you. And here is to a more nuanced debate in the future.