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ASC launches consultations on major proposed improvements to the programme. ASC has today (Monday 8 March) launched one of its largest ever public consultations and is asking stakeholders to have their say on major proposed improvements to the programme.

One set of consultations is seeking feedback on proposed environmental requirements for the aligned Farm Standard. This aligned standard will cover all ASC certified species bringing efficiencies and improvements without compromising on quality.

The second consultation covers the expansion of ASC’s supply chain assurance with the development of the ASC Chain of Custody Module introducing important requirements specifically for farmed fish. Further details on both of these major projects are below.

Chris Ninnes, ASC CEO, said:

‘Both of these consultations concern important innovations in the ASC programme, and as always we want to use the knowledge and experience of our stakeholders to ensure these improvements are as effective as they can be. Multi-stakeholder working is one of ASC’s biggest strengths and I’d like to thank in advance everyone who can contribute to this next chapter in the ASC programme.’

Stakeholder input is an important feature of ASC programme development and anyone can take part in these public consultations, with the feedback of certificate holders, auditors, NGOs and supply chain partners particularly sought. The expertise, experience, and opinions of all ASC’s stakeholders will once again help to shape the future of a programme that is continuously improving.

Stakeholders can view webinars setting out what the new proposals are for each topic, read additional information, and can feedback on any or all of these topics using a survey, on the ASC website. All of this information will be published on Monday 8 March on the ASC Farm Standard consultation page and the ASC Chain of Custody Module consultation page. Both consultations will run for two months, from 8 March to 7 May 2021.

Farm Standard

The project to develop the aligned Farm Standard covering all ASC certified species will bring major improvements to the programme. It will provide greater consistency across species and culture systems, delivering efficiency and simplifying the introduction of updates across the programme.

Currently, ASC manages a number of separate farm standards covering different species. They all provide an industry-leading set of robust environmental and social requirements, but because they have been developed at different times, they can vary on how some of the impacts that are common across aquaculture are addressed.

The aligned Farm Standard will cover all of these common impacts in one robust and thorough standard, which includes species-specific requirements which must also be met by the relevant farms.

Michiel Fransen, Director of ASC Standards and Science, said:

‘ASC’s standards are the most robust in the industry, and that’s not changing. A salmon farm will still have to address all of the impacts of salmon farming under the aligned Farm Standard, and a seabass farm will have to reduce all of the impacts of seabass farming.

‘But what the new standard provides is greater consistency when it comes to the many impacts that are common to most aquaculture – things like siting, energy emissions, escapes, and water use.’

‘This means that culture-system impacts will be holistically covered and species-specific impacts will be retained and be as robust as when originally drafted. All these proposed improvements will go through the same comprehensive development process involving multi-stakeholder expertise and public consultation – but in a more efficient manner because consultation will no longer be required for individual species-standards.’

By developing one comprehensive standard covering all these impacts, ASC will be able to respond to changes in the markets and industry more swiftly – if a new species needs to be added to the programme, the species-specific requirements can be developed and added to the Farm Standard, rather than developing an entire separate standard from scratch.

Chris Ninnes said:

‘In an industry as fast-moving as aquaculture, it is important to be able to respond to these new developments, providing updated, credible standards to mitigate any potential impacts. This can never come at the cost of a transparent and robust process. The Farm Standard allows us to find that balance.’

The Farm Standard will be split into three principles. P1 covers legal compliance, P2 covers environmental impacts and P3 covers social impacts. The proposed indicators for P1 and P3 were published for public consultation in 2019, and that feedback is being used to finalise them. The current consultation is looking at P2 –the environmental indicators. Because of the large number of environmental issues covered by ASC standards, these will be divided into two rounds of public consultation. The second round of consultation will take place in September 2021. The full list of what will be covered in each consultation is below.

ASC Chain of Custody Module 

ASC is also expanding its Chain of Custody (CoC) requirements to strengthen its supply chain assurances to buyers and consumers and to better address the unique nature of farmed seafood.

Chain of Custody certification provides traceability along the entire supply chain ensuring that only certified seafood is sold with the ASC label. Since 2012, ASC has used MSC’s CoC certification to cover ASC certified product supply chains. This robust system is the leading international standard for seafood segregation and traceability and it covers the entire supply chain, from farm to final sale. ASC and MSC work closely together and have many shared objectives and a strong collective ambition to maintain and innovate this aspect of our certification programmes.

Chris Ninnes said:

‘That to fulfil this ambition additional requirements are needed is due to inherent differences in producing farmed and wild seafood. Additionally, as the ASC programme grows, a new suite of assurance activities and tools to address emergent issues such as seafood fraud, food safety and use of substances such as antibiotics are needed.

‘These new ASC requirements reflect and establish global best practice to address these issues and begin to incorporate innovation through use of technology such as digital traceability and product authentication techniques.’

The new requirements will be in addition to the existing MSC Chain of Custody requirements, and will apply only to ASC Chain of Custody certificate holders. The new module will have implications for stakeholders, particularly Chain of Custody certificate holders and Certification Assessment Bodies (CABs). However, ASC will work to ensure that impacts are minimised.

Wendy Banta, ASC Senior Programme Assurance Manager, said:

‘These improvements help make the programme more effective and adaptive to new challenges, which will provide increased value and assurance to stakeholders. They are part of our ongoing work to constantly improve the ASC programme.

‘Giving our stakeholders a chance to provide feedback on our plans is another big part of that work, so we’re encouraging anyone who might be affected by these proposals to take part in the consultation.’

Next steps

Feedback from both consultations will be used to adapt the new proposals. The Farm Standard’s P1 and P3 requirements, covering legal and social indicators respectively, are currently being finalised following feedback from stakeholders and are due to be released this year. The next round of public consultation for the remaining P2 indicators will take place in September this year. After this feedback has been collated and reflected upon, a final round of public consultation on the complete proposed P2 will take place next year, followed by release.

The ASC Chain of Custody Module will be adapted based on this round of public consultation.

All final releases will be followed by a six- to twelve-month effective period to allow auditors and certificate holders to adjust.

Photo courtesy ASC