02 October 2003 | Colleen Harris
Unilever UK, the consumer goods giant, has said it will not hit its target of buying its fish from sustainable sources by 2005.
In Unilever's first UK sustainability report, it blamed "political issues" such as the slow reform of the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy.
The policy was set up in 1983 to regulate and manage fisheries, including conservation and international fishing agreements.
The report said another problem is the slow process of certifying fish as a sustainable stock.
Helen Lo, head of corporate social responsibility at Unilever, told SM: "The process of certifying a fishery stock as sustainable is thorough, but there are resource issues and it takes time. If you need to source more than you can certify, then there is a supply and demand problem."
Unilever, home to household names including Persil, Lynx and Birds Eye Foods, is under pressure to show its products are environmentally friendly.
Lo said: "We feel that it's a growing agenda in the UK. We have a more demanding number of stakeholders and our consumers will expect us to be transparent in all of our activities."
The report says Unilever is working with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), set up by Unilever in partnership with the WWF (previously the World Wide Fund for Nature), to identify sustainable fish sources.
Unilever said one of the new species it is marketing to UK consumers is hoki - an MSC-certified New Zealand fish.
In 2000, Unilever switched from buying cod in the North Sea to cod from Iceland's waters where stocks were not threatened.
Lo said Unilever was working with major retailers to develop consumer awareness, including putting the sustainability message on fish finger products.
In August, the government launched a review of how food and catering services were purchased in the public sector, with an emphasis on buying from sustainable sources.
The review, co-ordinated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is considering the environmental impact of production and distribution methods, animal welfare and pesticide use.