(this editorial ran in our Seafood.com News today)
The headline of one of the New York Times stories today is “Industry Money Fans Debate on Fish”. The story goes on to document how NFI paid travel and expenses for a conference of the Maternal Nutrition Group, made up of scientists, dietitians, and doctors to review the latest findings on the health effects of omega 3 on fetal development. Based on the recommendation of this group, the Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies coalition then publicized their recommendations that women need to eat more fish during pregnancy to improve their baby’s health.
A number of national groups are using the fact that NFI paid some expenses in relation to this study to try and discredit the scientific findings. The fact the Times ran this headline shows what a blatant double standard now exists for issues involving the seafood industry.
When do you see the headline “Environmental Money fans arguments against farmed fish”. The answer is never, because there is a double standard.
Environmental groups and organizations, such as the Pew and Packard Foundations, can spend literally millions of dollars in campaigns to promote wild salmon and disparage farmed salmon, and nowhere in the public debate do you ever see the linkage made between the funding sources and the arguments against farmed fish.
We ran a story last month (link) from BC showing somewhere between $5 and $10 million had been spent by environmental foundations specifically to discredit farmed salmon and promote wild salmon.
Yet because the money was not spent by “industry” it is not considered newsworthy-- it is just a fact of life.
But the environmental organizations themselves, from the Sierra Club to the Marine Stewardship Council, operate very much like businesses, even though they don’t have shareholders to which they distribute profits.
Instead, these companies have entrenched management whose goals are to perpetuate the continued growth or survival of the organization while working towards its policy goals. In this sense, they operate like any other management group -- weighing decisions about funding and operations through the lens of what will best perpetuate and enhance their organization. This is based on the implicit belief that maintaining their organization is the first and perhaps most important step towards the policy goal. The only difference is that for seafood business, and for NFI, the goal is to have a profitable business while operating in a sustainable manner, while for an NGO, it is to have a successful non-profit while gaining power and influence through membership, financial clout, and influence with government.
Neither side has a monopoly on the definition of “public good”. In our system, we think that an open and entrepreneurial environment brings the greatest public good because the opportunity for profit and reallocation of resources creates new products, opportunities, and organizations in a way that is more robust and creative than any other type of incentive.
In the case of mercury and fish consumption, there is a strong body of science that suggests that eating more fish means healthier babies. This is the message the industry, and the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies coalition is trying to get across.
Such a message contradicts the toxicity message from some of the environmental groups, who focus on mercury in seafood to the exclusion of mercury from other food and environmental sources. They focus on seafood because they also want to limit fish consumption for other reasons-- i.e. they think it will help eliminate overfishing. But in our case, the fact NFI spends money to have a conference merits a headline in the NY Times, while the fact that Foundations spend millions to discredit farmed salmon merits nary a peep. Yet farmed salmon is one of the healthiest sources of Omega 3 for most of the population. This is the double standard we live with today.