Sierra Club: World Trade Organization Puts Dolphins At Risk

GENEVA –(ENEWSPF)—November 20, 2015. Today, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against the dolphin-saving U.S. labeling program for tuna, calling it a “technical barrier to trade.” Mexico brought the case against the U.S.

Since 1990, the United States has maintained a “dolphin-safe” labeling program for tuna that allows consumers to choose to purchase tuna caught in a manner that does not kill dolphins. The “dolphin-safe” label has contributed to a 97-percent reduction in dolphin deaths since the 1980s in Pacific waters where dolphins and tuna cohabitate.

Today’s ruling marks the fourth time that the WTO has ruled against the U.S. label in the last four years and means that the U.S. could face WTO-authorized trade sanctions for maintaining the dolphin-saving label.

In response, Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program released the following statement:

“Americans want to know that the food they purchase and serve to their families does not come at the expense of wildlife. Today’s WTO decision limits environmentally friendly choices for Americans, puts dolphins at risk, and opens the door to further trade deal limits on consumer protections and environmental safeguards.

“This should serve as a warning against expansive trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would replicate rules that undermine safeguards for wildlife, clean air, and clean water.

“The U.S. government should not cave to pressure by weakening the dolphin-saving label. Instead, the U.S. should seek a negotiated solution with Mexico that keeps the label intact. After all, the United States government is ultimately accountable to the interests of the public, not to the interests of corporate-friendly trade organizations. Congress should also protect our safeguards by rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would replicate the rules that the WTO used to strike down our dolphin-saving label.”


Background on the case: Tunas and dolphins can commonly be found together in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Taking advantage of this, fishing companies have set upon dolphins to catch tuna, killing and injuring dolphins in the process. In 1990, the United States enacted a ban on imports of tuna caught with dolphin-unsafe practices and regulated “dolphin-safe” tuna labeling. After Mexico launched trade challenges against the import ban, the U.S. Congress gutted the ban and weakened the “dolphin-safe” label. Mexico then launched a WTO case against the remaining voluntary label in 2008. The WTO ruled against the U.S. label in 2011, 2012, and 2015. The U.S. attempt to appeal the most recent ruling largely failed in today’s final WTO ruling against the “dolphin-safe” label. The WTO decided the label violated WTO rules slated for replication in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite the fact that it protects wildlife, is voluntary, and applies equally to domestic and foreign firms. The decision initiates a process in which the WTO will determine the level of trade sanctions, if any, that Mexico is authorized to impose against the United States for the dolphin-saving label.