Pomona Becomes First Liberal Arts College to Earn Sustainable Seafood Certification

Pomona College became the first-ever liberal arts college to receive the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) Chain of Custody certification June 29. This recognition qualifies Pomona College Dining Services to handle and serve MSC-certified sustainable seafood to all students, faculty, staff, and guests of the college. Since the awarding of the certification, about 80% of the seafood served in Pomona College dining halls has been MSC-certified.

According to Samantha Meyer, Sustainability and Purchasing Coordinator for Dining Services, MSC-certified seafood is distributed from fisheries that meet rigorous sustainability standards as determined by the MSC.

Evaluated criteria include health of the stock, management and harvesting procedures, and ecosystem impacts. A Chain of Custody certification ensures that through every step of the production and distribution process in the seafood industry, from the fisheries to end-users, MSC-certified seafood is never mixed with seafood that is not MSC-certified.

According to Dining Services General Manager Glenn Graziano, Pomona’s Chain of Custody certification is the result of a year-long effort to implement new handling and sourcing procedures that meet MSC standards. New measures included designating specific freezer space solely for the purpose of storing MSC-certified products, altering receiving procedures so that shipments are better documented and can be traced back to their original sources, and passing an audit conducted by an independent certifying body.

“We are, as a department, trying to be more sustainable and be in keeping with the mission of the college,” Graziano said.

The Dining Services team has embarked on many projects geared toward sustainability since the school switched to self-operation of the dining halls in January. According to Meyer, new additions to dining halls include locally-sourced fruits and produce, organic rice, fair trade organic coffee and tea, cage-free eggs and certified humane meats. Other sustainable practices that have been initiated include composting, recycling, and purchasing products that waste less packaging.

“We want to be one of the best university dining services in the country, and the first to do so in a just and sustainable manner,” Meyer said. “It’s a pretty unique combination—other people focus on just being the best but we want to do it in a way that’s ethical as well,” said Meyer.

However, sustainable and organic foods can often come at a high price in spite of the environmental benefits they bring. To alleviate monetary concerns, Dining Services is constantly on the search for sustainable products at a bargain. Much of the MSC-seafood, as an example, is cheaper than their non-MSC-certified counterparts that were previously served in Pomona’s dining halls.

The school’s switch to self-operation was also vital in the success of these initiatives, as the move granted Dining Services the freedom to explore new options in the market that are both cost-efficient and environmentally sustainable. Pomona’s dining halls were previously managed by the French multinational food service provider Sodexo.

Though Dining Services has made significant headway in its mission to serve more organic and sustainable products, a major roadblock in exclusively serving MSC-certified seafood offerings is the availability of these products, Meyer said. Distributors cannot accommodate MSC-certified options for every type of seafood that the college demands, such as certain shrimps.

However, the list of available MSC-certified products is steadily expanding as more fisheries become MSC-certified, Meyer added. Demand for the product is also gradually increasing as more institutions like Pomona and UC Berkeley earn Chain of Custody certifications. According to the UC Berkeley News Center, that school became certified in June.

To educate the campus about the MSC certification, Dining Services will hold a public launch and informational dinner Oct. 13 in the Blue Room at Frank Dining Hall. The event will feature a tuna harvester and representatives from the MSC. The meal will incorporate MSC-certified seafood and will be regularly priced.

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