Thursday, 26 February 2015

Unintended Consequences: How Canadian Lobster Is Losing Its Identity

They are regulations designed to give consumers better information about the food they're buying, but could spell bad news for the Canadian lobster industry. Two years ago European consumers were shocked to discover that horse meat was being peddled as beef, and this wasn't the only fraudulent food on store shelves.  Low quality olive oil sold as virgin, Chinese honey marketed as local, and many cases of  mis-labelled fish were discovered.  Starting this year there are new labelling requirements throughout the European supply chain to counteract this, including for seafood, and that's how Canadian lobster has been caught in a bureaucratic word trap.

Both the scientific and the commercial name of seafood must now be on the label. Unfortunately the lobster caught in the cold North West Atlantic waters is "Homarus Americanus", translated as American lobster.  Efforts are being made to get "Canadian lobster" instead on the label, but lobster processors have to start ordering their packaging now and most are in a dilemma.  Some European countries, France, Spain, UK, Holland, Belgium, Croatia  and some others are OK with Canadian lobster.  Germany and Sweden are close to agreement, but Italy remains a problem. The committee designated to make this change in Italy has been disbanded. There are commercial and diplomatic efforts being made solve the Italian problem, but many processors say time is running out. Their concern would be shipments of live or frozen lobster turned back at customs because of mis-labelling at enormous cost to the Canadian exporter, but if they give in to this fear they risk years of work and millions of dollars used to promote and market "Canadian" lobster.  They've even been told that the use of "Canadian" meets international labelling standards, and certainly isn't fraudulent

There's a lot more at stake.  Canadian lobstermen can only fish in certain seasons, ensuring that lobsters are full of meat and hard shelled. U.S. fishermen can go year round, and often bring in lobster that are molting, with soft shells, and less than full claws and tails.  It's an important distinction that isn't lost on knowledgeable consumers. As well fishermen here have been voting whether to designate a cent a pound from their catch to marketing, to shore up the price at the wharf. The combination of the 2009 financial collapse, and record catches along the East Coast has depressed prices for years.  Europe has been held out as a bright spot in this gloomy outlook. Seafood is seen as a big winner in CETA, the free trade agreement between Canada and Europe that would lower import tariffs on Canadian seafood making it more competitive. CETA could be implemented within a year, and that's why the Canadian lobster industry doesn't want to stumble now.   There are risks in CETA for Canada, higher drug costs, the ability of big European construction firms to bid on infrastructure programs, and so on.  If the benefits of the deal are lost because processors now give in to the current confusion, there will be losers from the wharf through to the executive suites of the processors. These are Canadian lobsters. Let's call them that.