I’m not really into too many tinned foods, however, during our beach holiday in Sorrento I did find myself surfing the supermarket canned goods aisles for ‘best buys’. The irony of being so close to the sea yet shopping in the supermarket for seafood, which is likely to have come from halfway across the world, wasn’t lost on me.
I have been avoiding tuna for some time given it is overfished. Canned tuna is the biggest selling seafood item in Australia. Most of Australia’s tuna comes from the Pacific Ocean, which is also the source of over half the world’s tuna. But global tuna stocks have been decreasing since industrial fishing began in the 1950s. Greenpeace has recently released their Canned Tuna Guide which is about putting pressure on supermarkets and consumers to take responsibility for tuna stocks which are in a critical condition. Greenpeace is encouraging supermarkets to switch to sustainably caught Skipjack Tuna instead of Overfished species such as Bigeye and Yellowfin Tuna.
At home, instead of tuna, I’ve been enjoying a regular lunch of calamari salad (my version of Caesar salad). Calamari or squid, from our local Footscray fish market, is one of the ‘better choices’ in Australian Marine Conservation Society freshly updated seafood guide.
However, being on holidays, I was seeking another good choice which I believe are sardines or pilchards. Sardines are a nutritional powerhouse – they are loaded with calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, and are a great source of nonmeat vitamin B12. But they’re also quite low on the food chain so pretty efficient in terms of resources (compared to larger fishes that eat them). They are a short-lived, robust species (not currently overfished) and often caught with mid water trawl and purse seine a fishing method where bycatch is not a problem.
So all sounds good, eh? But what were the options, and how did they stack up according to what’s on the label?
The reality is that finding a ‘best buy’ most of the time means weighing up different information and often making a trade-off of one for the other. The three main issues that I could ascertain from the information on the label that could help me decide on what was a better choice with regard to sardine options were:
- manufacture – where the fish is from*
- ownership – who are the companies behind the brands, where they are based, what is their track record
- packaging – is there unnecessary packaging, is it recyclable or non recyclable.
* It’s worth noting that in regards to manufacture, as Greenpeace said in their submission to the recent labeling review, present country of origin information on seafood products is far from accurate. Instead of broad ‘country’ zones, they recommend labeling that includes the specifics of the FOA catch area (eg) as well as the specific name of the species in the product.
Options in Coles were :
|Brand||weight||Country of origin||Ownership||Packaging||cost|
|John West||110g||Product of Scotland||Owned by Simplot (US company). Simplot Australia employs approx. 2000 people at 5 five manufacturing facilities. No sustainable seafood procurement policy – from Greenpeace Canned Tuna Guide.||cardboard sleeve around steel can||2.66|
|King Oscar||105g||Packed in Poland from local & imported ingredients||Imported by Manassen Foods (Australian company based in NSW. 51% owned by CHAMP Pty Ltd private equity firm) 350 employees||plastic sleeve around steel can||3.20|
|Brunswick||106g||Product of Canada||Owned by Freedom Nutritional Products(Australian company based in NSW) employing 130 people||plastic sleeve around steel can||1.59|
|Santa Maria||120g||Product of portugal||Imported by Conga foods (Australian company based in Coburg, Victoria)||Steel can only||1.81|
|Coles Smart Buy||125g||Owned by Coles supermarkets, (Australian company, owned by Wesfarmers), one of supermarket duopoly controlling 80% of Australia’s grocery market.||plastic sleeve around steel can||0.70|
Found some other options later on in SIMS, our local independent supermarket in Footscray:
|Delamaris||105g||Manufactured in Slovenia||Delamaris, Izola (an old fishing city in southwestern Slovenia)||cardboard sleeve around steel can|
|Marco polo||115g||Product of Croatia||Imported by Marco Polo Foods based in Campsie, NSW||cardboard sleeve around steel can|
For me the best buy amongst these was Santa Maria, which did come from Portugal but was imported by Conga Foods (based in Coburg – a family owned company employing 100 people in 2004) the most local company amongst those on offer. It was also packaged in just a steel can. In terms of the things I value most, packaging waste is probably the one that rates most highly, so I’d definitely be avoidng those with plastic wrap, and going for minimal layers of packaging. It topped the others for taste too.
So, back to paddling in rock pools with my kids…