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MSC updates chain of custody standard for seafood traceability

MSC certified products (PHoto: MSC)

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Friday, February 20, 2015, 23:30 (GMT + 9)
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has revised its requirements for seafood suppliers, processors and vendors, following feedback from over 200 stakeholders around the world. The international organisation says the MSC Chain of Custody Standard is now more streamlined, clear and accessible.

The updated MSC Chain of Custody Standard includes a new specific set of requirements designed to work better for consumer-facing companies, such as restaurants, fishmongers and caterers. The standard also continues to offer a cost-effective 'group chain of custody’ option for large organisations or groups of smaller businesses that wish to work together to get certified.

All MSC Chain of Custody audits must apply the updated standard from 1 September 2015. Certified organisations that have scheduled an audit before September 2015 should contact their certification body to verify when they will transition to the updated standard.

Standards apply to the entire supply chain for MSC and ASC seafood 

The MSC Chain of Custody Standard ensures that only seafood from wild-capture fisheries certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard for environmentally sustainable fishing can carry the MSC ecolabel and claim. It is also used to ensure the integrity of the supply chain for responsibly farmed seafood certified to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council's (ASC) standard.  Any organisation wishing to be part of the supply chain for MSC and/or ASC certified seafood must comply with the MSC Chain of Custody Standard for the end product to be sold with the MSC or ASC label or claim.

Over 2,800 organisations in more than 75 countries currently hold a Chain of Custody certificate. These organisations are responsible for handling over 28,000 MSC and 1,700 ASC ecolabelled products in around 100 countries.

David Agnew, Standards Director at the MSC said, "The MSC Chain of Custody Standard ensures that consumers can have absolute confidence in claims about the sustainability and sourcing of the seafood they are buying. This is absolutely essential to engaging consumers in protecting our oceans for the future.

“Whilst DNA sampling of seafood demonstrates that the MSC Chain of Custody Standard works, we recognise that industry does not stand still and that our program requires regular improvement. The updates announced today are the result of a year-long consultation with industry representatives. They mean that the MSC scheme is more straightforward and applicable to different companies along the supply chain. Additionally, a separate version of the standard now gives greater access to businesses at the end of the supply chain, allowing them to meet growing consumer demands for sustainable and traceable seafood products."

Meeting industry needs 

Organisations may now choose to be certified against one of three versions of the MSC Chain of Custody Standard, depending on the nature of their business: 
  • Default: For single or multi-site organisations trading certified seafood.
  • Group: For organisations with a central office function and many locations trading certified seafood such as co-operatives or franchises.
  • Consumer-facing: For retailers, restaurants, caterers and fish mongers or fresh fish counters of any size selling or serving certified seafood directly to final consumers.
The new version of the standard for consumer-facing organisations was developed with extensive stakeholder input and piloted with six previously uncertified companies. Their feedback suggests that the new version of the standard is significantly more accessible and fit-for-purpose than the previous MSC Chain of Custody requirements.

Key changes

Other key changes to the MSC Chain of Custody Standard include: 
  • Clearer requirements for identification and traceability of certified products.
  • More specific requirements for companies to confirm the certified status of products upon receipt, and to ensure they only purchase from certified suppliers.
  • Greater emphasis on competency of staff in meeting the MSC Chain of Custody Standard, and more emphasis on interviews during audit, in addition to checking training records.
  • Revised requirements for 'under-assessment product' (formerly ‘UMAF’) – now only fisheries, farms, or organisations that are named members of the fishery/farm will be eligible to buy and store under-assessment product.
  • MSC Chain of Custody Standard: Group requirements have been restructured and streamlined so they align better with the Default version of the standard.
  • A more equitable and consistent approach for timing of surveillance audits has been introduced. Most companies will now be on annual surveillance audits, with very specific categories of organisations qualifying for a reduced 18-month frequency.
  • A small percentage of surveillance audits (minimum 1 per cent of clients for each certification body) will now be carried out as unannounced audits. These will be determined based on risk or randomly selected, and will replace a normal surveillance audit so there is no additional cost.

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