Monday, May 21, 2012

Something's fishy here

You likely know that a lot of the tuna sold in the US comes in cans with the words "dolphin safe" on the label. The labeling issue arose because it had been discovered that dolphins in part of the Pacific Ocean often swim above schools of tuna. So fishers would simply set large nets over the dolphins, netting both dolphins and tuna - and often drowning many of the dolphins in the process.

Since 1990, there has been a program in place to monitor compliance with tuna companies to insure they practice "dolphin safe" fishing practices and so can use the label on their products. As a result, dolphin deaths from tuna fishing have dropped an estimated 98 percent.

Well, last Thursday, May 17, an appeals panel of the World Trade Organization ruled that the “dolphin safe” labeling regulations used in the US unfairly discriminate against Mexico because Mexico allows its tuna boats to continue to use the method of setting nets on schools of dolphins. Reversing an earlier decision that the regulations were not discriminatory, the panel said they need to be changed to make an exception for Mexican fishers or dropped entirely.

There are, of course, other options for the Mexican tuna fishing industry: One, it could adhere to the regulations, as almost all other affected countries do. Two, if could market its tuna to the US without the label. However, both those options could hurt the bottom line; the first because the methods involved are a little more expensive, the second because people actually do pay attention to that label and as a result distributors aren't going to be willing to carry such tuna. But of course, hurting the bottom line was an unacceptable option. So instead, Mexico went to the WTO and - big shock - the WTO said "profit profit profit" and "Environmental issues? What are they?" and ruled in favor of Mexico.

There is a move on to push the White House to tell Mexico and the WTO to shove it despite the risk of sanctions against US products.

But here's what I was thinking: Mexico is claiming, and the WTO is agreeing, that the "dolphin safe" regulations must be changed because they "discriminate" against Mexican fishers because (in essence) they hinder their ability to continue to slaughter thousands of dolphins without anyone knowing about it.

Isn't that kind of like claiming that civil rights laws must be dropped because they "discriminate" against bigots?

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