The effort to stop the slaughter of dolphins in tuna nets has been a successful consumer-led movement, but it's in jeopardy, according to press reports.
A World Trade Organization panel ruled this week that U.S. "dolphin-safe" labeling rules violate free trade agreements with Mexico. The U.S. can appeal the decision, so it's not necessarily final. But if the ruling stands, Mexican fishermen might be able to sell tuna to canners marketing dolphin-safe tuna in the U.S., even if it was caught with methods that today violate the dolphin-safe rules. Mexico has been fighting the label for years.
The Earth Island Institute, which certified dolphin-safe tuna, recommends these three U.S. brands of tuna: StarKist (Del Monte), Chicken of the Sea (ThaiUnion Int.) and BumbleBee. Those are exactly the brands to which Mexican fishermen want to sell their tuna, according to the Associated Press.
"Dolphin-safe tuna labels are strictly voluntary; Mexico can sell tuna in the U.S. market with or without the label," said Todd Tucker, research director for Public Citizens Global Trade Watch. "'Voluntary' is the new 'mandatory,' according to this WTO ruling. It tells consumers that even voluntary labels, and the subjective consumer preferences they may cultivate, are ripe for WTO attack."
The ruling comes amid signs that the labels are helping dolphins to recover in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
For 30 years until the early 1990s, boats tracking tuna used purse-sein nets that captured dolphins as well as tuna. Spotted and eastern spinner dolphins (pictured here) saw their populations drop 80% and 70% respectively. But recent surveys have shown their numbers rebounding.
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