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Proper labelling is integral to successful marketing
Proper labelling is integral to successful marketing
FAO/FIIU Photo Library


Labelling and certification are important parameters in a product strategy, especially when entering international trade. In addition to adhering to regulatory requirements in the importing countries, voluntary labels or certification permit producers and marketers of fish and fishery products to target specific segments of consumers, gaining a competitive advantage.

For example, many producers of fish and fishery products have undergone voluntary certification schemes such as the ISO 9000 programmes. This is done not only to raise effectively the quality standards of the production procedures but also to boost the chances that a company's products are chosen by specific importers, retailers or consumers. This factor has become of increasing importance due to added emphasis on traceability and food safety as well as stricter requirements from importers or retailers to their suppliers.

Recent requirements

The European Union introduced new labelling requirements for fishery products from 1 January 2002 specifying that all products (some processed products are excepted) shall carry labels that state production method (capture or farmed), catch area of wild species (FAO fishing area) and country of production in the case of farmed fish products, Latin name and commercial name.

Fish caught by certain capture methods that enhance quality and aquaculture products farmed according to very stringent rules, may also in many markets be sold under special labels that allow for higher prices.

Fishers focusing on high catch quality have been very successful at selling their products at a price several times higher than those from aquaculture in markets such as France. Likewise, aquaculture producers certified for quality labels such as Label Rouge receive higher prices than uncertified producers selling without labels. Aiming for quality is of course not free as costs are usually higher but usually the reward in the market place seem to justify the higher expense.

Similarly, companies may choose to produce according to specific requirements that permit them to label their products as environmentally friendly or produced in respect of certain social values. Examples of such labelling include: "organic production" labels, "fair trade" labels", "dolphin-safe tuna" labels and eco-labels such as the Marine Stewardship Council label. In other markets, special labels denoting the typical geographic origin of the species or the traditional processing method used have received official recognition and protection and have also found favour with consumers.

Labelling and international trade

The use of labels for environmental purposes such as eco-labels have also become an issue in international trade and received special mention in the WTO Ministerial Declaration in Doha in 2001. Correct use of labels is an issue because countries may disagree on which practises shall qualify for specific labels and some countries fear that labels can be used as hidden barriers to trade. There may also be disagreement over which species shall be allowed to share a common commercial name. There have been several disputes on this issue throughout the years, the most recent being the disagreement between Peru and the European Union on which species shall qualify for the sardine label in the European market. The WTO Agreements already include an agreement dealing with labels in the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade but as environmental labels have grown in importance these will be given special attention in the new multilateral trade negotiations.

Overall, it is expected that labels testifying to specific qualities and attributes regarding product content or production process will increase their importance in the marketplace, especially in response to consumers' concerns about food safety and species sustainability.

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