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McDonald's Sustainable Fish: All U.S. Locations To Serve MSC-Certified Seafood

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Big news out of the McDonald's camp today: the chain will become the U.S.'s first national restaurant chain to serve certified-sustainable seafood at all of its locations.

Packaging for all fish dishes at McDonald's 14,000 U.S. locations will be marked with the blue ecolabel of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an independent nonprofit organization that sets standards for sustainable fishing based on fish stock health, impacts of the fishery on its ecosystem and the fishery's management system.

McDonald's fish was actually first certified in 2005, but the company has since performed an audit of its supply chain to ensure sustainability and traceability. Various types of fish have been used in McDonald's dishes over the years -- while some may have been considered sustainable at one point, the recent certification ensures that all seafood are from sustainable sources.

McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich and the soon-to-launch Fish McBites are currently made with MSC-certified, wild-caught Alaska pollock. The MSC label will appear on packaging beginning in February in conjunction with a marketing campaign.

The effort is a big coup for the sustainability community; McDonald's is one of the single largest buyers of fish in the U.S. Dan Gorsky, senior vice president of U.S. supply chain and sustainability, stressed the importance of the move in a company press release:

“We’re extremely proud of the fact that this decision ensures our customers will continue to enjoy the same great taste and high quality of our fish with the additional assurance that the fish they are buying can be traced back to a fishery that meets MSC’s strict sustainability standard.”

While the move may seem groundbreaking, it's actually a step behind when McDonald's has already done in Europe. In October of 2011, all of the chain's 7,000 European locations began serving MSC-certified fish.

McDonald's isn't the only company to get into the sustainable fish game recently, either. In late 2011, Target announced that it would sell only sustainable seafood by 2015, and Whole Foods stopped selling fish considered unsustainable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch and the Blue Ocean Institute after Earth Day in 2012.

The move to use only MSC-certified seafood is likely part of McDonald's broader push for sustainability, which has been made public stated since March of 2011. It includes an effort to serve more sustainable beef, but that's not as easy to achieve -- or define. Experts say that a global definition for beef sustainability remains elusive.

Still, sustainability is a complicated matter. Some experts say current efforts aren't taking into account problematic issues like greenhouse-gas emissions, and inclusion of the carbon footprints into rating systems may bring us closer to accurately defining sustainability.

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