Unsubstantiated claims made by unqualified parties are no substitute for sound science.
Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council published fake news. While the FDA, EPA, scientists, and nutritionists are all calling for Americans to eat more seafood – including canned tuna – the NRDC is doing just the opposite. A post on keeping kid-friendly food in the kitchen includes a warning from NRDC’s Miriam Rotkin-Ellman that canned tuna is not safe for children. The NRDC’s entire argument is an unsourced claim that there is a “documented case” of a child getting mercury poisoning from eating tuna sandwiches every day
Meanwhile, the empirical record is clear. There has never been an instance of mercury poisoning from normal commercial seafood consumption recorded in any American medical journal.
NRDC’s failure to improperly source this claim is particularly egregious because it exacerbates a public health crisis.
The organization’s recommendation that parents steer clear of tuna contradicts the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which urge consumers to eat more fish and recommends tuna as a healthy option. Moreover, studies have found that insufficient seafood consumption is to blame for nearly84,000 preventable deaths each year, and that seafood consumption helps ensure brain and eye development in children. In fact, A long-term study showed that children whose mothers had reduced their seafood intake during pregnancy had appreciably lower IQs. Those children missed out on key nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids –which every major health organization says are essential for healthy brain development.
The NRDC claims to be committed to using the combined expertise of lawyers, scientists, and policy experts to make the world a better place, but pieces like this suggest they’re more committed to activism than science. If they’re at all serious about accurately informing their readers, they need to immediately remove fake news from their website and commit to publishing analysis grounded in sound scientific inquiry.
Overused and ineffective rank’n’spank system makes another appearance
March 9 2014 – WASHINGTON, DC – Greenpeace has released a new fund raising campaign designed to rank U.S. canned tuna companies and solicit donations from supporters. The list itself follows the model Greenpeace has used for years: rank companies based on a system for which the scoring methodology is totally arbitrary and hidden, then promote those rankings in the media—rank’n’spank.
The non-scientific, non-transparent and completely subjective rankings are one of the thinnest offerings Greenpeace has ever promoted. While other annual rank’n’spank campaigns have been largely dismissed as ineffective sideshows, with a target audience of donors and institutional supporters Greenpeace has at least made an effort to make those operations appear robust. This latest promotion is anemic at best.
sustainability. The Foundation, a partnership between global tuna canners (including Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and Starkist), scientists and WWF, is the premier tuna conservation group. Reporters and producers might find it odd that Greenpeace doesn’t even acknowledge a group whose mission is to undertake science-based initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks yet they will rank companies who participate in such group.
The media is advised to research Greenpeace’s strategy and push for scrutiny on its unpublished methodology. Further it’s urged to recognize the timing of Greenpeace’s fundraising pitches and the release of such rankings. When you click to “add your name” to what appears to be an online petition, notice two things 1.) Only the three top branded tuna companies are addressed in the “petition” despite ranking fourteen 2.) You are required to give them your name and email address to sign on – we encourage reporters to test this system and watch your inbox begin to fill up with donation requests almost right away.
Greenpeace is a multinational behemoth with a $300-million a year operating budget. It has spent a grand total of zero dollars on tuna science, yet continues to use tuna as a poster child for its fund raising efforts.
Oceanographer and National Geographic “Explorer-in-Residence” Sylia A. Earle made a bizarre claim about tuna on Twitter:
“Did you know that it takes 100,000 lbs. of plants to grow one lb. of tuna? A pound of chicken takes two pounds of plants!” Earle wrote in a tweet dated November 25.
We’re not sure where Earle learned math, but not only are her numbers wrong—her premise is faulty. None of our tuna is “grown” on farms the way the chicken she uses as an example is. All of our tuna is wild-caught, just as mankind has caught fish for eons. There is some experimentation in tuna aquaculture (you may have heard it called “tuna farming” or “tuna ranching”) but in those cases, tuna are fed small baitfish like sardines, herring, and anchovies, not plants. And the “feed conversion ratio”, which is the phrase farmers and ranchers use, is exponentially smaller than the 100,000-to-1 ratio Earle cites.
It’s possible that Earle gets the 100,000 number by counting not just everything tuna actually eat, but everything eaten by everything tuna actually eat, and everything eaten by everything eaten by everything tuna actually eat, and so on, all the way down the food chain to plankton. If you find this a confusing and odd choice, you’re not alone.
The fact is that, unlike the chicken in Earle’s inapt analogy, we don’t “feed” our wild-caught tuna anything in order to “grow” them. Mother Nature determines the tuna’s diet, not us, and they would eat what they eat whether or not we fished for them.
Today we give a well-deserved tip of the cap to the National Post’s Rex Murphy.
In a recent column that’s well worth the read, Murphy surveyed the spectacle that Greenpeace has become, charting how the organization has evolved from a scrappy, ideological underdog to what Murphy terms a “corporate [fundraising] brand” unto itself.
While Greenpeace used to be known for taking bold moves such as staging sit-ins at nuclear weapons testing grounds, Murphy writes, they now resort to protests directed at “gentle-minded, humane, risk-averse Western targets” in what amounts to “pure kabuki, [a] show without consequence.” Their goal: fundraising in an effort to replenish Greenpeace’s corporate coffers.
But while it’s encouraging to see Murphy call out Greenpeace after decades of childish antics, his voice remains a lonely one in the broader media.
The environmental press, in particular, can’t or won’t see what Murphy does, and indeed go out of their way to praise the accomplishments of Greenpeace, despite any evidence that their juvenile actions are having a positive impact on global sustainability efforts. In the world of canned tuna, for instance, the Greenpeace playbook is to make false claims about how tuna is sourced while refusing to join the global tuna industry in real sustainability dialogue. And where are the journalists asking Greenpeace to do an economic impact study for the highly inefficient, “throwback” pole and line methods they recommend for tuna fishing? How much more would a can of tuna cost for the families Greenpeace claims to be helping if tuna companies rolled back decades of technological progress?
And who in the press is asking how many more fishing boats, spending how many more man hours and burning how much more fuel, would be required to meet global seafood demand under Greenpeace’s preferred fishing policies? Has any reporter demanded that their patron saints of environmentalism do an environmental impact study of their own preferred policies?
When Greenpeace advocates for pole and line caught canned tuna, they’re also advocating for dramatically increasing the price—and carbon footprint—of one of the most nutritious and affordable foods available to Americans, plain and simple. And in a country that eats far less than half of the recommended amount of seafood suggested per week, giving in to Greenpeace’s policy prescription of catching fish one at a would be disastrous.
Rex Murphy deserves a round of applause for seeing through the rhetoric and theater of Greenpeace’s demands and for recognizing that the organization is nothing more than an elaborate fundraising scheme We hope the rest of the media follows his lead and starts to ask Greenpeace the tough questions about their prescriptions for tuna sustainability.
Those of us in the U.S. are not the only ones fed up with Greenpeace’s shenanigans.
All over the world, Greenpeace activists have trespassed and vandalized property — hanging banners, spray-painting graffiti, chaining themselves to buildings and equipment — to grab publicity and harass businesses and governments. Of course, these antics have done nothing to advance real solutions to the world’s problems. They’re just the same tired pranks repeated over and over.
The association said it regretted that Greenpeace “has not been able to express its goals and arguments in the discussion channels where the other agents in the fishing industry, ship owners, crew, industry, NGOs, consumers, women’s networks and other interested parties provide ideas and arguments.”
Cepesca also made clear that while the Spanish fishing industry is taking action to ensure that seafood is plentiful for generations to come, Greenpeace is doing nothing productive — even blowing off panels advising the European Commission on fisheries policies.
As one publication noted: “Given the recent incidents, Cepesca finds it regrettable that Greenpeace does not provide solutions and chooses the performance of vandalistic and illegal acts that only provide ‘media covers but no contributions to help improve the sustainability of the fishing activity.’”
How familiar that all sounds to us.
On this side of the ocean, we’ve also seen our fair share of Greenpeace blimps and protests that are meant to intimidate tuna companies and raise money from Greenpeace supporters. All the while refusing to sit at the table with legitimate sustainability organizations like International Seafood Sustainability Initiative, WWF and MSC to name a few.
Backlash is growing around the world for Greenpeace’s brand of ecoterrorism that is increasingly becoming stale and irrelevant.
Because his friends at Greenpeace told him it was so, food columnist Mark Bittman then told his readers that Fish Aggregating Devices used by tuna companies “kill countless numbers of [other] animals in their quest for cheap tuna.”
And then some of the top fishery scientists in the world, whose work is published by outlets like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation, stepped up and noted that despite Bittman’s hyperbole, “catching young tuna around FADs does not necessarily result in overfishing. Additionally, [a] study finds that levels of non-tuna bycatch are comparable or less than in other industrial fisheries. [They then] argue that if certain bycatch problems can be solved, and if FAD fishing is properly monitored and managed, this method of fishing could be one of the most environmentally responsible.”
Food critic says tuna industry uses a method that kills countless critters and real life scientists say that method could be one of the most environmentally responsible. Who do you believe? The people who do the research or the guy who promotes Greenpeace without ever questioning what they tell him?
Keep in mind when scientists, in this case toxicologists, were surveyed, 96 percent said they believed Greenpeace overstates risks. So, there we have nearly 100 percent of the scientists surveyed saying Greenpeace “overstates risks,” which for most people means lies.
Let me put too fine a point on it… Greenpeace gets reporters and columnists who don’t ask tough questions to write about its various campaigns, ones who would not be likely to reach out to the top scientists in the field of tuna sustainability– even when writing about tuna sustainability. Then they take those articles and show their supporters how “well” their campaigns are doing and ask for more money to support said campaigns. But the campaigns never end; so just how “well” could they be doing? It’s a cycle that involves a lot of Green.
Reporters and columnists, don’t end up as a pawn in this cycle… or do… and just admit it.
It should come as no surprise that Greenpeace is trying to capitalize on Earth Day coverage to build visibility for its false attacks on canned tuna sustainability. After all, this eco-extremist group seizes every opportunity (no relevance needed) to repeat its baseless accusations about the health of tuna stocks used for canned tuna.
What is surprising are the lengths to which Greenpeace will say and do anything, including contradicting its own demands, using any media attention to rally its supporters to give money, signing more petitions and even hosting useless recipe contests.
Case in point. Greenpeace applauds Huffington Post’s unscientific attempt to portray canned tuna as a product that is high in CO2 emissions. Ironic from an organization that has spent a lot of time and money promoting carbon intensive pole-and-line tuna fishing as a sustainability panacea to replace the less carbon intensive tuna catch methods currently used today. In fact, pole-and-line fishing gear uses almost 300 percent more fuel than purse seine fisheries. Not to mention that pole-and-line fishing cannot meet the existing demand for tuna, which means denying millions of families access to an affordable, nutritious and ready-to-eat protein.
But hey, this is Greenpeace we’re talking about. Facts don’t matter, only self-promotion and fundraising — regardless of costs to the same environment it purports to save and those pesky humans who need healthy foods to survive.
It would be easy to dismiss IntraFish’s take on Greenpeace’s campaign against canned tuna as merely an opinion, everyone is entitled to one. That particular opinion ultimately suggests the marginalized activist group is likely to “permanently change” how tuna is harvested and sold (Another Win For Greenpeace, March 7, 2012).
But rather than take the easy way, perhaps it is more appropriate to ask IntraFish to actually investigate the very real and negative impact Greenpeace’s demands would have on American families’ diets if they ever came to fruition, while probing the group’s goals for ulterior motives and unintended consequences.
IntraFish quotes hyperbolic Greenpeace campaigners lauding retailers, who are bullied into submission, as “progressive, comprehensive and visionary” but does not do the homework that would expose a campaign that is short on facts and long on fundraising. Read Full Post »
Earlier this month, Greenpeace sought to remind its supporters that Taiwan’s pledge to better manage Pacific fisheries was full of hot air. How did it plan to do that? By launching a hot air balloon of course. Comically, however, wind prevented the balloon from actually flying. Perhaps that’s a metaphor for Greenpeace’s failure to launch serious reforms.
Let’s juxtapose the latest Greenpeace campaign with efforts undertaken by members of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). Months earlier, the ISSF analyzed research compiled by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) Scientific Committee. And based on that rigorous scientific evidence, the ISSF developed recommendations to better manage tuna stocks, minimize bycatch and protect endangered species, including:
Complete closure of purse seine fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Oceans (WCPO);
Stop all transactions with purse seine vessels that transship at-sea to minimize illegal, unreported and unauthorized (IUU) fishing activities;
Adopt a limited entry, closed-vessel registry to reduce the number of fishing vessels to a level that is commensurate with the productivity of the WCPO fisheries; and
Prohibit deliberate purse seine setting around whale sharks, as well as, adopt mitigation measures for oceanic white tip sharks and blue sharks. Read Full Post »
In fact, the people who put nutritious and affordable tuna in America’s lunch bags and on dinner tables have been improving the way tuna is found, caught, and kept viable for generations to come. That unheralded success has taken many years of continuous innovation and effort that will surely continue.
Consider the challenge. You are on a small boat in an ocean twice the size of Canada. In that ocean you are looking for only two species of tuna (skipjack and albacore) that roam for thousands of miles. How do you find and catch those fish and little else?
Random nets strewn about would catch everything. A fishing pole in the open ocean would catch next to nothing. Experience teaches us that migratory fish like tuna are attracted to floating objects like tree branches or logs in what is an otherwise featureless aquatic wilderness. These floating objects are known by the technical term Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), and they make fishing for tuna more efficient. Remarkably, innovations like FADs help keep bycatch — fish caught other than tuna — to less than 5 percent of the total catch.
But no one fishing method is perfect by itself. That’s why tuna fishermen use a variety of gear. As the methods improve, the mix of gear changes. This has been true for years. And as anyone who has dropped a line in the water knows, there is no one method that is 100-percent free of bycatch.
Greenpeace’s Jeffrey Hollander also says that it is becoming harder “to hide from the reality of what is happening to our oceans.”
That’s true… and that’s good news.
What’s happening in our oceans is that fish populations once thought to be on the brink are coming back. And those still facing challenges have sustainability oversight in place. Albacore and skipjack tuna stocks are healthy and thriving. And because of FADs, tuna bycatch rates have never been lower, which means tuna fishermen can better avoid catching other species of fish or sea turtles.
Greenpeace’s says it wants tuna to be caught only with a fishing pole and line, or with no FADs — in other words, with no modern fishing techniques. Think about how that might work in practice. You’d need a lot more boats covering a lot more ocean in search of tuna that could be almost anywhere. That means more engines burning more fuel for more time, enough bait to decimate stocks of bait fish, and a massive new carbon footprint.
If, in reality, this approach is such a bad idea, why does Greenpeace talk about it incessantly? The reason is simple: Greenpeace needs something to talk about.
Notice how they don’t talk about dolphins anymore. Why? Because innovations in tuna fishing like FADs made canned tuna dolphin-free decades ago.
No, the best problem for Greenpeace to attack is one that features an attractive animal and an impossible solution. That way they can raise money for years to come and never actually solve the rhetorical “crisis” they created.
Followed to their logical ends, Greenpeace’s solutions would put companies out of business, and perhaps that’s the goal. But it’s not a sustainable one for Greenpeace, because without the big bad companies to rail against, supporters won’t write checks. So, look for Greenpeace to continue its full-blooded fundraising effort via a half-hearted sustainability campaign.
Gavin Gibbons is the director of media relations for the National Fisheries Institute, the nation’s largest seafood trade association. As NFI’s spokesman, he has been featured in everything from the Washington Post to USA Today and has been the voice of fisheries issues on CNN, NPR, and the Fox Business Network. He is also a featured blogger for AboutSeafood.com andSeafoodSource.com.