WWF campaign against pangasius gathers pace

The World Wildlife Fund seems to be pursuing a vendetta against Vietnam’s pangasius industry. First there was the saga late last year when the conservation organization placed the fish on its “red list” of species to avoid, which ignited an uproar. Now its “fish expert,” Catherine Zucco, has been actively involved in making a program denigrating the industry, which will air on German TV on 9 March.

Called “The Pangasius Lie,” two presenters from the NDR channel, Michael Höft and Christian Jentzsch, joined forces with Zucco to “research” pangasius in German supermarkets and in Vietnam where “90 percent of the pangasius fillets” sold in Germany are produced.

According to the NDR press release to the German media, pangasius is a well-loved and low-priced fish, whether purchased deep-frozen in the supermarket or fried in the canteen — workers’ canteens in big factories are an important market for pangasius in Germany — and 40,000 metric tons “landed on German plates” in 2010. However, it says that environmentalists are now sounding the alarm: “Pangasius stresses animals, human beings and the environment alike.”

The research in Vietnam was conducted in a cloak-and-dagger fashion without anyone in the industry being officially consulted. “Only with the help of an insider was it possible to look behind the curtains of this major industry,” said the program’s authors.

During their research, Höft, Jentzsch and Zucco found “a lot of bad situations,” starting with “the pouring of chemical contaminated off-flows from the farming sites into the Mekong River” to “the massive use of antibiotics in the farms.” They also saw aquaculture sites “where the fish are kept squeezed tight together into a small space.”

Finally before being slaughtered, “the pangasius must suffer a cruel martyrdom as there are 12 hours of torture during transport to the processing plant,” declared the program’s authors.

The three researchers also discovered many things about processing, the feed used for pangasius and the marketing of the final product that will alarm environmentally conscious consumers.

In fact, it sounds as if the program will be very emotive and deliberately designed to influence consumers against purchasing pangasius. Journalists usually aim to present a balanced picture when they report on a situation. But this program will be completely one-sided.

There are nearly 400 Vietnamese seafood processors qualified to export directly to the EU market. Many are operating at a higher standard than similar plants in Europe, probably even in Germany itself. Methods of farming pangasius in Vietnam are also being upgraded and the farms and feed mills audited. Farmers are even obtaining Global GAP certification.

However, because of the deal struck by the Vietnamese Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) to get pangasius removed from the WWF red list, it has agreed that all exported pangasius will be certified according to the NGOs own Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification scheme. So given this agreement, why was it necessary for the WWF to be involved in the making of the TV program? Was it to reinforce the message that Vietnamese farms must be ASC certified?

Aquaculture marketing firm Callander McDowell has no doubt that this is the real reason why the WWF put pangasius on its red list to start with. “The message to pangasius farmers is clear. Sign up to the ASC and then pangasius will be given a green or yellow rating. Alternatively, ignore the ASC and the WWF will continue to recommend that consumers avoid pangasius.”

Unfortunately for pangasius farmers, despite the VASEP-WFF agreement, when pangasius was removed from the red list — it is said that pangasius is still on the red list in Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark — it wasn’t placed on the yellow or green list, but on a new list of “moving toward certification.”

Presumably this means ASC certification. And so the relentless WWF campaign continues.

 

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