Food For Thought

Most Americans Eager To Buy Seafood That's 'Sustainable'

Swordfish from Canada are marked with a label from the Marine Stewardship Council at a Whole Foods in Washington, D.C. The MSC says its label means the fish were caught by a sustainable fishery, but critics says it's not always so clear. i i

hide captionSwordfish from Canada are marked with a label from the Marine Stewardship Council at a Whole Foods in Washington, D.C. The MSC says its label means the fish were caught by a sustainable fishery, but critics says it's not always so clear.

Margot Williams/NPR
Swordfish from Canada are marked with a label from the Marine Stewardship Council at a Whole Foods in Washington, D.C. The MSC says its label means the fish were caught by a sustainable fishery, but critics says it's not always so clear.

Swordfish from Canada are marked with a label from the Marine Stewardship Council at a Whole Foods in Washington, D.C. The MSC says its label means the fish were caught by a sustainable fishery, but critics says it's not always so clear.

Margot Williams/NPR

Poll results from a recent survey of 3,000 Americans, conducted on behalf of NPR, by Truven Health Analytics. Questions were asked — in general — about sustainable seafood and labeling.

Consumer Poll About Sustainability

This week, our colleagues Daniel Zwerdling and Margot Williams with NPR's investigations unit have a terrific three-part series on the Marine Stewardship Council. As they report, the MSC's labels tell consumers which seafood is supposed to be good or bad for the environment. But some environmentalists say the label is misleading, and that the growing demand for sustainable-labeled seafood from retailers like Target and Whole Foods is pressuring the program to certify fisheries that don't deserve it.

As far as we could tell, no one had ever really asked regular consumers how they feel about seafood that's sustainably caught. So we teamed up with Zwerdling, Williams and Truven Health Analytics to find out. We asked 3,000 adults across the country about what the labels mean to them as part of an NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll.

First, we learned that people's seafood consumption habits vary quite a bit. Roughly one in four respondents (24 percent) said they rarely or never eat seafood. But another 30 percent said they eat seafood at least four times a month.

The results from the poll showed that 80 percent of Americans who regularly eat fish say it is "important" or "very important" that the seafood they buy is caught using sustainable methods. ("Sustainable" was defined as still being plentiful for future generations, and caught using methods that did minimal harm to other animals in the sea.)

About 67 percent of respondents said they're "somewhat confident" in labels that call seafood "sustainable," while 20 percent don't believe them at all, and 14 percent said they're "very confident" in what labels suggest about how the seafood was caught.

Many are under the impression that wild-caught fish is better for them: Fifty-two percent of those surveyed told us they believe that wild-caught fish or seafood has more health benefits than other types of fish.

The poll also found that people not only support the idea of sustainable seafood — they are also willing to pay more for it. About a quarter of respondents said they would pay up to 10 percent more, while 22 percent said they would fork over between 10 and 20 percent extra for products they believed were sustainably caught.

The nationwide telephone poll of 3,004 adults was conducted during the first half of August 2012. Click here to read the questions and complete results. For more polls from Truven Health Analytics — formerly the health care business of Thomson Reuters — and NPR, see our archive.

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