Environmental concerns prompting nearly half of consumers to switch diets amid growing concern for state of the ocean

Nearly half of shoppers who are changing what they eat are doing so because of concerns about the environment according to a new global survey by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), released ahead of the UN’s World Oceans Day on Saturday (8 June).

Consumers are more conscious than ever about how their food choices impact the planet.

Researchers surveyed over 27,000 people across 23 countries, including South Africa, and asked them if their diets were changing. Of the more than 22,000 people who said yes, 43% of them said it was down to environmental reasons, alongside health and price.

  • From a global snapshot, the biggest change was in red meat, like beef and lamb, with 39% of all shoppers surveyed cutting their consumption over the past two years. 37% said they were eating more vegetables and 11% said they were eating more fish. Looking forward, 27% of respondents said they would eat more seafood in future if they knew it wasn’t causing harm to the ocean.

Locally, anxiety about the state of the world’s oceans among seafood consumers is on the rise, with 93% of South Africans saying they were worried, up from 89% two years ago. Optimism about the possibility of saving the ocean from irreversible harm has dropped significantly. Just 50% of South African seafood consumers said they believe in 20 years-time we will have saved the oceans from irreparable damage from humans, down from 61% two years ago.

Top of local consumers’ environmental concerns was climate change (55% put this in their top three), but other major issues were pollution in rivers and streams (53%), extreme weather events (41%) and the health of the ocean (35%).

Despite the often gloomy outlook, greater awareness of conservation and recent record-breaking weather events, can also be motivating, with 64% saying they feel an increased desire to protect the marine environment.

In terms of possible solutions, the survey showed the South African public has a good understanding of the role of sustainable fishing: 59% of seafood consumers said they associated it with ensuring that endangered or vulnerable species are better protected. In addition, 60% of respondents recognised that it includes maintaining healthy, thriving fish populations, both of which are key components of the MSC Fisheries Standard.

Michael Marriott, MSC Program Director for Africa, the Middle East and South Asia said: “The results of the survey show a growing public concern about the state of our ocean. Protecting it, and the diversity of life within it is vital for the health of the planet. We need to re-double our collective efforts to tackle overfishing and the enormous threat it poses.

Incentivising positive change, through recognising and rewarding sustainable fishers is vital for progress. By ensuring fishing practises are sustainable we can guarantee more life in the ocean
as well as protecting a valuable food resource for this, and future generations.”

The findings of the research, commissioned by the MSC and carried out by GlobeScan, a global insight and advisory consultancy, are being released ahead of World Oceans Day, designated 8 June by the United Nations in 2008 to raise awareness of the impact of human actions on the ocean, and to bring people together to improve the sustainable management of the world’s oceans.

Caroline Holme, Executive Director at GlobeScan, said: “These results mirror our broader findings in our annual healthy and sustainable living study and the public’s perception of the challenges that the world faces. Even amid a cost-of-living crisis, environmental issues are of major concern to consumers.”

MSC certified fisheries have made more than 400 fishing practice improvements in the last three years, including to protect endangered marine species and vulnerable habitats. Fishers certified to MSC’s global, science-based fisheries standard, are required to manage fish stocks sustainably and minimize impacts on the wider marine environment.

The ocean covers over 70% of the planet and produces at least 50% of the planet’s oxygen. It is home to most of earth’s biodiversity and is the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world.

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