When Lembit Janes pushed off from Sweden’s shores in August 1948, he hoped the ocean would help provide for his family in Canada. It did, and today his family is working to ensure the earth’s oceans can feed future generations.
Many Canadians are surprised to learn an Estonian family is behind the familiar Janes brand of frozen foods. A rare Estonian surname, Jänes means “rabbit”. Originally from Mõisaküla in Estonia, Lembit Janes helped pioneer frozen food technology in Canada.
Today, Janes Family Foods is run by the sons who sampled their father’s batter recipes at the kitchen table. Lembit (Lem) Janes Jr., is Chairman and CEO, and Toomas (Tom) Janes, is Director of Sustainability.
The company employs over 300 people at three plants in the Greater Toronto Area. Privately-held, Janes sells frozen chicken, beef and fish products across Canada to the food service industry and to retail giants like Loblaws and Walmart.
Guided by their father’s enterprising spirit, the Janes brothers recognized long ago that respecting the environment can help the bottom line. The company introduced recyclable packaging in 1992 just as recycling bins began appearing at the curb.
In February 2011, Janes became the first food company in North America to have all of its retail seafood products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an international non-profit organization, as being sustainably harvested from boat to plate. The entire process is voluntary. The idea to invite the MSC’s audit and certification process was sparked when Tom attended a Boston conference in 2010.
“As much as 75 per cent of the world’s fish stocks are overfished. Our family grew up on the east coast of Canada. We saw the collapse of cod in Newfoundland,” says Tom. “Janes made the decision to provide only certified sustainable frozen seafood in grocery stores because we believe it is the right thing to do.”
The United Nations has designated June 8 as World Oceans Day to celebrate the sea’s riches and to raise awareness of how human activity can both hurt and help marine ecosystems. A recent survey by Janes found that only about one in 10 Canadians think of sustainability when choosing seafood in grocery stores or restaurants. Lack of awareness about overfishing may threaten oceans as much as overfishing itself.
“Sharkwater” is a sobering wake-up call by documentary filmmaker Rob Stewart. The film captures the beauty of underwater worlds and the devastation wreaked by shark poachers in the name of profit. The world’s shark population has declined by almost 90 per cent. Janes invited the filmaker-biologist to speak at their World Oceans Day event.
What many people don’t realize is that oceans give us air to breathe. Plankton -- tiny aquatic plants -- convert carbon dioxide into 70 per cent of the world’s oxygen. Fewer sharks risks an overgrowth of plankton-eating marine animals. Less plankton means humans live with more greenhouse gases. Ultimately, saving the oceans is about saving ourselves.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. As filmaker Stewart says, “We have an enormous opportunity with humanity.”
Over 12 per cent of global fishing for human consumption is now sustainable, as guided by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Individual acts of ocean conservation can be simple and powerful. Busy consumers can spot responsibly harvested fish and seafood at a glance by looking for the MSC’s blue eco-label on product packaging. Spending their dollars on certified seafood products allows consumers to voice their support for healthier oceans and reward well-managed fisheries.
The increasing demand for sustainably-sourced products is creating a race to the top among industry competitors. Janes sells fish to Costco in the U.S. and Tom Janes indicates the MSC certification of their seafood products is stirring interest among other American buyers.
Janes Family Foods’ leadership to help raise awareness and reverse the decline of global fish stocks reminds us that respecting the environment can be good for business. Lembit Janes Sr. would be proud (www.janesfamilyseafood.ca).
Estonian-Canadian company achieves North American first in sustainable seafood (2)