U.S. seafood brands Conagra and Bumble Bee are facing class action lawsuits from consumers over the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainable labeling on their products. The lawsuits, which have been filed separately in federal courts in Illinois and California, seek damages of about $5 million (€4.7 million).
The consumer plaintiffs, Abdallah Nasser and John Bohen, contend that Bumble Bee is not as good as their word in sustainability terms. Their labels, supported by MSC, make consumers believe their products come from sustainable fishing practices.
The consumer lawsuit focuses on what the claimants argue is the MSC’s unsuitability as a sustainable label. The lawsuit claims that MSC allows its members to obtain their certification with a paid membership. A fact that “creates a potential conflict of interest”.
On the other hand, “The MSC is, of course, for profit,” states the lawsuit, which includes information about MSC’s financial statement showing 80% of the organization’s revenue comes from licensing to put its logo on seafood products. According to the lawsuit, fisheries applying for certification and use of the MSC eco-label pay between $20,000 and $100,000.
“Bumble Bee turns a blind eye to the unsustainable fishing practices used in sourcing its products. It boldly uses the Sustainability Promise with the [MSC] Blue Tick as proof of sustainable fishing methods.”
Bumble Bee knew or should have known. “MSC hands out this certification to those who use industrial fishing methods that injure marine life as well as ocean habitats with destructive fishing“, the plaintiffs said.
Labeling is more than marketing…
Regardless of MSC certification, Bumble Bee procures and fishing practices hurt ocean ecosystems indiscriminately, the lawsuit alleges.
The legal complaint against Bumble Bee explains that the company engages in “suffocating and crushing dolphins caught in fishing nets where they dragg onto fishing vessels severely injured or killed. Torturing to death endangered sea turtles after being caught on large hooks intended for tuna”; among other severe allegations.
Although, class action involves also a Conagra in MSC certification. The lawsuit alleges that Conagra and in accordance with MSC’s certification “do not provide these promised protections. Instead, engage in the following conduct, which indisputably defies its promise of sustainability […] contributing to the failure of the populations.”
Some of Conagra’s products are harvested in the Bering Sea by Russian fisheries that use midwater pelagic or midwater trawls. “Russian pollock fisheries have no effective measure in place to protect endangered species” the plaintiffs claim.
The use of such trawls is widely criticized. It has a high rate of bycatch – fishing for non-target animals – which results in the death of endangered species or juveniles. Therefore, the plaintiffs allege that “no reasonable consumer would believe that the products are ‘sustainable’ if they knew about these”.
This issue is a part of a growing trend of taking legal action against companies that conduct greenwashing. The claims of recyclability and sustainability is a commitment to reach.