Chad Dobson is Director of the Consumer’s Choice Council, a non-profit association of environmental, consumer, and human rights organizations dedicated to protecting the environment and promoting human rights and basic labor standards through eco-labeling.


What are some of the success stories you have seen around the world with the introduction of labeling programs?

Certainly in this country we’re starting now with the Forest Stewardship Council. Home Depot has now said that they will only carry their products and I think we’re on the verge of seeing significant change because of the work that FSC has done. In this country maybe the most successful labeling programs have been the organic ones and there’s been a 20% growth in the last few years, per year, on organic consumption. As you know, when the Food & Drug Administration tried to give us weak standards on organics there were nearly 300,000 Americans who contacted the FDA and the Agriculture Department and said they needed them to be strong. So I think organics is strong, we’re beginning to see stuff on Forest Stewardship Council.

You just mentioned the organics industry has seen a 20% growth rate since the labeling program was introduced. Has this made it possible for more farmers to switch over to organic farming practices?

Yes, because of more price, there’s better price for their product, so that that has happened here. We see it in other countries, in fact more than here because some other countries have government support for that transition. You know, it takes maybe about three years to go from a farm that is producing non-organic to get certified organic, and sometimes even longer so that transition can be difficult. A number of European countries support farmers that do that, and they do it because it’s better for the environment as well. And if you’re trying to meet environmental legislation, going organic is one way of doing that. But farmers do get a better price for their product by doing organic and it’s important.

Do you believe consumer demand for a product could create a positive incentive for industry to change the way they supply a product?

All of the polling we’ve seen says that consumers are interested in environmentally friendly and sensitive products. They are willing to buy them and in fact are willing to search for them and pay above the general price. And we believe they mean it and are willing to do that, and so we see that when they know how things are labeled, they’re willing to consume them that way.

What has this made possible for companies in terms of their operating procedures?

Well companies that are aware of this and take the consumer seriously I think are moving actually to create more environmentally friendly products and make sure that they’re out there so the consumers can get them.

What kind of clout do you believe consumers can wield in changing the ways the fishing industry operates?

Well I think that we know that in seafood consumption there’s an enormous amount that happens through restaurants and also in stores, and that I’m quite clear that when consumers know how things are being produced and how problematic they are environmentally that they’re willing to ask for and get better products that are produced in those environmentally-friendly kinds of ways.

Do you believe consumers are interested in the impact of how the products they are buying are being produced?

Sure I think that consumers are interested in how things are produced, interested in protecting their oceans, and willing to pay more for it in the market to get that kind of product. We find the consumer demand is creating incentive for the industry to change the way it operates and to deliver to the consumer the products that they need and want.

Do you believe certification or labeling efforts such as those the Marine Stewardship Council is intending to create helps to give consumers a choice in what kind of production methods are used to create food products?

The Marine Stewardship Council’s initiative is an important contribution in helping consumers find the products that they need and in helping industry develop those products for the consumer.

In general, what clout do consumers have in helping to shape the market for their food products?

I think consumers have an opportunity and in fact a responsibility to help and protect the environment and to exercise their interest in these issues and they can do it by the way that they buy and consume every day. And the market is fueled in fact by consume preference and it’s very sensitive to that, and those people who care about these issues can, by what they do every day of their lives, help protect the environment and our planet.

Do you have a sense of how important independent certification bodies are to consumers versus industry self-certification?

Consumers have said numbers of times that they want to have an independent certification for products, that they prefer that over industry self-certification. And so things like the Forest Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council are important additions to make sure that consumers know how things are produced and that they trust them.

The MSC says their certification effort is meant to supplement existing laws and treaties that promote responsible fishing practices. They are aware that enforcement of regulations worldwide is inconsistent and believe that a market-driven tool such as the labeling scheme is necessary. What is your opinion?

I think that it’s important that consumers exercise their responsibility in helping the environment and that they understand that we can’t always depend upon governments to do that, and in fact there is some difference from one country to the other about enforcement. So that the individually consumer doesn’t need to depend on government, they can themselves by going to the supermarket do that.

Based on the work your organization has done, have you noticed a difference in the way consumer spending dollars are helping to influence the way industries operate?

People are beginning to exercise their dollars and to help protect the environment. I think we still have a long way to go in this country — more education needs to take place, the labels have to be clear, we have to use more money in marketing our products as environmentally friendly — but that it’s a beginning thing and it’s a powerful tool, and we’re moving in the right direction.

I think that consumers need to think about where the food is .. where the food comes from that they consumed. That we in this country somehow have gotten to a point where we think that fish comes or milk comes or whatever it is comes from the store, and that we don’t have relationship between production and consumption, and I’m hoping that the next generation or this generation spends a little more time understanding what the effects of the environment of production are and that they really can make a difference by being more sensitive about what they buy and what they use.