Whether it's canned tuna or prized tuna sashimi, the big blue fish seems to find itself in the midst of controversy time and time again. From canning processes to mercury levels and fishing practices that fail to comply or rather completely ignore responsible standards, tuna has become more than just sandwich filler.
The U.S. is the leading consumer of canned tuna in the world, according to Greenpeace, so our buying habits can have a huge effect on the way tuna gets from the big blue ocean to that little can.
“Consumers should know that popular and trusted canned tuna brands are contributing to ocean destruction at an alarming rate,” said Greenpeace Seafood Markets Lead Graham Forbes in a news release. “While the biggest brands have thus far refused to offer sustainable tuna, the silver lining here is that other companies are stepping up to provide ocean-safe options for their customers.”
Unfortunately, it takes more than just looking for a label that says "dolphin safe."
“Unfortunately, dolphin safe does not mean ocean safe. Turtles, sharks, and other vulnerable ocean life are collateral damage in tuna fisheries that supply the U.S. market,” added Forbes. “The big players have a responsibility to join forward-thinking brands in building a more responsible tuna industry. As the market continues to shift, selling products that are bad for our oceans will be bad for business.”
So, what is a conscientious, market-shifting — but probably overloaded — American consumer to do?
Luckily, Greenpeace recently ranked the 14 most widely known brands of canned tuna from the best to worst, with criteria including third-party auditing, supply-chain transparency, and sustainable fishing practices.
Of the 14 brands ranked, Wild Planet, American Tuna, and Ocean Naturals passed with proven commitments to the criteria, with Whole Foods, Hy-Vee, and Trader Joe's coming in close with passing ratings that also noted that the companies needed "to improve supply-chain transparency, do more to avoid destructive fisheries, and cement social responsibility policies."
Populating spots seven through 14 in bad to absolute worst order are Safeway, Costco, Target, Walmart, Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, Kroger, and StarKist.
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The listing charges that these companies use questionable fishing practices that kill the aforementioned vulnerable species and have "no commitment to avoiding human rights abuses among employees, which in worst cases can include slavery. Some even source their tuna from unhealthy stocks." That's just gross.
An informed consumer can enact change, and a good start is looking for a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification logo on the packaging as well as maybe migrating in shopping habits to the top three (or six) companies listed here. In the end, all canned tuna is going to taste the same more or less, so even if you end up spending a little more, you can sleep soundly at night knowing your tuna is kind to the environment and the fishermen themselves.
For Greenpeace's full list and interactive ratings results, greenpeace.org/usa/tunaguide.