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Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna Applauds World Trade Organization Ruling Against U.S. Dolphin-Safe Label

April 14, 2015


Ruling Is a Victory for Consumers and Sustainable Fishing Practices in the Eastern Tropical Pacific

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2015 – Today in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Trade Organization (WTO) handed down the final decision in a long running trade dispute between Mexico and the United States regarding the use of dolphin safe labels in the U.S. marketplace. The ruling ratified non-compliance claims made by the government of Mexico under Article 21.5 that the United States had failed to comply with the 2011 ruling of the WTO Appellate Body.

The dispute centers on the fact that the requirements for use of dolphin-safe labeling in the United States effectively and unfairly block access of Mexican tuna products to the U.S. market. Importantly, for the third time, the WTO finds that U.S. trade marketing restrictions unfairly apply different, unverified standards for dolphin-safe labeling for non-Mexican tuna entering the U.S. This non-Mexican tuna supplies 96 percent of the market and is allowed to bear a “dolphin-safe” label even though it is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of dolphins annually and countless deaths of other marine life.

In its most recent ruling, the WTO Panel found that the U.S. has allowed industry/private interests to develop the unregulated, unverifiable tracking system behind the U.S. dolphin safe labeling scheme. This has resulted in a compliance system that excludes Mexico, even though Mexican compliance standards are much higher than those products that are allowed to bear the “dolphin-safe” label. “The U.S. [labeling system] relies on canneries, but we see no evidence that canneries do such checks, nor are they legally required,” the ruling states.

Mexico is an environmentally responsible partner and their fisheries meet the highest international standards for dolphin protection. The inability of Mexican tuna products to carry the U.S. dolphin-safe label, illegally denies them market access to the U.S. All other tuna in the U.S. marketplace not captured in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) can enter the U.S. market as dolphin safe with virtually no proof that is was captured without harm to dolphins. This, despite the fact that the science of numerous conservation NGOs and even of the United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration estimates tens of thousands of dolphins per year are killed in the capture of tuna outside of the ETP.

The WTO decision is a yet another major victory for Mexico, but more importantly, for the environment, for all species of the marine ecosystem and for consumers who rely on the truth and veracity of claims of eco-labeling schemes. At this point in time, the United States’ “dolphin-safe” labels are meaningless. This decision, if and when implemented by the United States, will add truth to calling something “dolphin-safe” and contribute to safeguarding dolphins around the world, as well as other species such as turtles, sharks and billfish and, notably, the sustainability of the tuna resource itself.

This decision reinforces Mexico’s commitment to harvest tuna in a sustainable way and to deliver to consumers a product that is fully traceable from its point of capture to the point of sale, and fully verifiable as to its true dolphin safe status.

About the Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna

The Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna is an international effort committed to a more sustainable approach to tuna fishing. We advocate for new labeling rules in the United States and around the world to promote an eco-friendly approach to tuna fishing and ensure that consumers are no longer misled about false claims by current “dolphin-safe” labels.

For more information, visit www.ecosafetuna.org. Follow the campaign on Twitter at @ecosafetuna.

Tuna Truth Squad