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Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describes government fish buying standards as wholly unacceptable

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, backed by Sustain and leading fish conservation groups, has written to UK government ministers to complain that, under new proposals, 8 in 10 fish bought in the public sector will have no sustainability standards.

PRESS RELEASE: 25 January, 2011

Government fish standards have been described as “wholly unacceptable” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – backed by leading fish conservation groups, in response to a Defra consultation on new sustainability rules for food served in Whitehall, government agencies and the armed forces [1], noting that even McDonald’s has a better fish policy [2]. They warn that despite government claims to be “the greenest government yet”, new sustainable fish standards proposed by Defra would cover only one in every 5 fish bought by public sector institutions, leaving 4 out of 5 with no sustainability standards at all. [3]

The letter can be downloaded here [80kb PDF].

In a letter to Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon and Farming Minister Jim Paice [4] (Jim Paice has responsibility for government food buying standards), Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and leading fish conservation groups said, “Given the worrying status of world fish stocks and marine ecosystems, and high levels of public concern, we believe Central Government should make a commitment to using 100% sustainable fish […] not the 60% target set out in your current consultation document, which in turn applies to only one third of food bought in the public sector.”

Hugh’s co-signatories on the letter are the Marine Conservation Society, the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, the Environmental Justice Foundation and Sustain, which coordinates the new Sustainable Fish City campaign [5]. They point out that leading catering companies and supermarkets [6], London’s police and transport workers [7], and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic catering teams [8] have all adopted sustainable seafood policies that go much further than the new Defra proposals.
“Responsible food companies recognise that they need to commit to buying fish only from sustainable sources. The future of fish, precious marine environments and good fishing livelihoods depends on these commitments,” said Kath Dalmeny, policy director of Sustain. “As taxpayers, these pathetic government proposals mean that millions of pounds of our money will continue to be spent on endangered fish and on damaging fishing practices. This is a shocking state of affairs.”

PRESS CONTACT: Kath Dalmeny, tel: 0203 5596 777; email:

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  1. The coalition government committed in its manifesto to introducing Government Buying Standards for food bought and served in central government, which covers about one third of public sector food, and includes Government departments, agencies, the armed forces, prisons and state-funded museums. The draft standards were issued for consultation IN December. Contact details for Defra and its press office are at:
  2. McDonald's has a long-standing commitment to improving fish sustainability, achieving ‘green light’ status for  98% of its fish served in 2009. See details on the company website.
  3. The Government Buying Standards proposals, covering only one third of public sector catering, propose that only 60% of this seafood should have sustainability standards. These standards will therefore cover only one fifth (around 19 per cent) of seafood bought in the whole UK public sector. Standards will not apply to food served in hospitals, schools, local authorities and other publicly funded institutions, making up the two-thirds majority of public sector spending on food.
  4. Richard Benyon MP is Fisheries Minister responsible for fisheries policy. Within Defra, Jim Paice MP has responsibility for government procurement policy, and his food team issued the Government Buying Standards consultation. 
  5. Marine Conservation Society (; Shellfish Association of GB (, Environmental Justice Foundation ( and Sustain ( and
  6. On 8 December 2010, Sodexo committed to MSC certification of all of its outlets. See: Leading supermarkets with progressive policies on fish buying are: M&S, Sainsbury’s, the Co-op and Waitrose.
  7. On 6 December 2010, the GLA Group - London Metropolitan Police, Transport for London, London Fire Brigade and Greater London Authority announced a commitment to adopting the London 2012 Food Vision standards, which includes a commitment to "100% demonstrably sustainable seafood":
  8. In December 2009, LOCOG - the organisers of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games issued its Food Vision, containing mandatory and aspirational standards for food served at the Games. Among the mandatory standards was a firm commitment to serve “100% demonstrably sustainable seafood”. See:
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Published 24 Jan 2011

Good Food for Our Money Campaign: The Good Food for Our Money campaign ran from 2008 to 2011. After several notable successes, this campaign has now evolved to focus on winning healthy and sustainable food standards for hospital food, in parallel with Sustain's existing work on the Children's Food Campaign to secure healthy and sustainable food standards for school meals.

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