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.
Also on HuffPost:
Wild-caught <a href="http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_search.aspx?s=gray+sole" target="_hplink">gray sole</a>, or Atlantic sole, has been dangerously overfished over the last 50 years, leaving its numbers are very low. Whole Foods will instead buy more flounder, a similar species.
<a href="http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_search.aspx?s=skate" target="_hplink">Skate</a> has also been very overfished. The majority are caught with bottom trawls, which result in accidental catches and significant damage to the seafloor.
<a href="http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_search.aspx?s=atlantic cod" target="_hplink">Atlantic cod</a> caught by trawlers will be banned, although some caught by gillnets or hook and line will be allowed by Whole Foods. <em>Photo by Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/maritimeaquarium/5121214242/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk</a>.</em>
Most <a href="http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_search.aspx?s=atlantic halibut" target="_hplink">Atlantic halibut</a> have been overfished. They're also often caught with trawls, which disturb and destroy the seafloor.
<a href="http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_search.aspx?s=octopus" target="_hplink">Octopus</a> is a popular ingredient in sushi, though there's little firm population data available. However, most octopus are caught in bottom trawlfisheries, which have concerning levels of bycatch and can damage the seafloor. <em>Photo by Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/xcbiker/544256864/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">XcBiker</a>.</em>
The numbers of imported <a href="http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_search.aspx?s=sturgeon" target="_hplink">wild sturgeon</a> have taken a dive as a result of overfishing for their eggs, or caviar.
Partly as a result of their slow rates of reproduction and growth, populations of <a href="http://www.blueocean.org/programs/seafood-search-result?dropdownlist=&sushi=n&keyword=tautog&x=0&y=0" target="_hplink">tautog</a> are low.
This large flat fish is <a href="http://www.blueocean.org/seafood/seafood-search-result?dropdownlist=&keyword=turbot&x=0&y=0" target="_hplink">overfished in the Atlantic</a>.
Imported Wild Shrimp
Imported wild <a href="http://www.blueocean.org/programs/seafood-search-result?dropdownlist=&sushi=n&keyword=shrimp&x=0&y=0" target="_hplink">shrimp</a> are often caught with bottom trawls that damage the seabed and result in bycatch of endangered species like sea turtles.
Some species of <a href="http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_search.aspx?s=rockfish" target="_hplink">rockfish</a> will disappear from Whole Foods, but others will still be found. Among the threatened varieties are some species of Alaskan rockfish, which may already be locally depleted. They're also caught with environmentally-destructive trawls.
Whole Foods stopped selling bluefin <a href="http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_search.aspx?s=tuna" target="_hplink">tuna</a> several years ago, and now banned tunas include species listed as "<a href="http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/2011/04/no-red-rated-tuna-swordfish/" target="_hplink">red</a>" by its partners. <em>Photo by Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/invernodreaming/6125533828/sizes/o/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">InvernoDreaming</a>.</em>
Many <a href="http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_search.aspx?s=swordfish" target="_hplink">swordfish</a> are caught with methods that are often snare sea turtles, seabirds and sharks. Whole Foods will only carry swordfish caught using handlines, which involve a single baited line that catch one fish at a time and result in virtually no bycatch.