(The following letter was sent to IntraFish by Richard Stavis, the former owner of US-based Stavis Seafoods and current founder and managing partner of Stavis Consulting.)
I just saw your piece entitled “Are plant based seafood labels really misleading? Judge for yourself." I’m taking you up on your invitation to share my opinion on the subject.
The highest priority for a food label is to accurately describe the product contained within so the consumer is able to make an informed decision.
It is important for the consumer to know what the product does contain (protein, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.) and what it does not (gluten, sugar, other potential additives or ingredients that could “break” a controlled diet or trigger an allergic response).
If consumers read ingredient statements, the product descriptor on the front would be less important, but I suspect that most don’t. The consumer is less likely to look closely when he or she thinks that the product is something familiar.
The Good Catch brand “Fish” and “Crab” products are great examples of products that even I might grab without thinking for a second that they’re devoid of marine protein.
So what do I think these products should be called?
It’s not enough to prevent the use of the fish’s name. Consumers have a right to know what they are eating.
I’d suggest something like “soy-based fish alternative” or “plant protein-based tuna alternative” I wouldn’t go so far as to require “pea-based protein." I know that has a negative connotation, but it should be listed in the ingredients in the back.
How do I feel about using “Toona” or “F*sh”? That’s a grey area. There is a measurable percentage of consumers who could easily be confused due to poor vision and/or mental fuzziness to believe that it really is tuna or fish.
This is exacerbated by cans shaped like tuna cans and photos that make finished product look like fish.
The safest thing would be to prevent faux names, but I fear that is a bridge too far. I’d suggest the government do research into the potential for abuse and make guidelines to protect the vulnerable.
How do I feel about cell cultured? If they can make it indistinguishable in terms of nutrition, taste and texture, I say communicate that it was grown protein but then have at it.
My goal is to protect consumers. While I want stakeholders in traditional fisheries to survive and thrive, I am a fan of transparency, not protectionism.