AUSTIN, Texas (Sept. 13, 2010) – Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFMI) today launches the first in-store color-coded sustainability rating program for wild-caught seafood and commits to phasing out all red-rated species by Earth Day 2013.
Partnering with Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, Whole Foods Market is the first national grocer to provide a comprehensive, science-based sustainability rating program for wild-caught seafood. The system’s green, yellow and red ratings make it easy for shoppers to make informed choices at the seafood case. Green or “best choice” ratings indicate a species is relatively abundant and is caught in environmentally-friendly ways; yellow or “good alternative” ratings mean some concerns exist with the species’ status or catch methods; and red or “avoid” ratings mean that for now the species is suffering from overfishing, or that current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats. The new initiative expands upon the sustainable seafood program that Whole Foods Market has had with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) since 1999, and the new ratings apply only to non-MSC-certified fish.
“At the end of the day, it’s a team effort. Our customers, buyers, fishermen and fishery managers can all make smart decisions that move us in the direction of greater seafood sustainability,” said Carrie Brownstein, Whole Foods Market seafood quality standards coordinator. “The new color-coded rating system is a transparent way to provide sustainability status information. This new program, along with our promise to phase out red-rated species, deepens our commitment to having fully sustainable seafood departments.”
With the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reporting that 80 percent of fisheries are fully exploited, overfished, or depleted, Whole Foods Market’s is combining the passion of its customers, the commitment of its skilled seafood buyers, and the dedication of its many seafood suppliers to help reverse this trend.
“We’re delighted to help Whole Foods Market expand its commitment to offering seafood from sustainable sources,” said Michael Sutton, vice president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who oversees its Seafood Watch program, montereybayaquarium.org. “Whole Foods Market is a leader in the field, and its decision will have a real impact on seafood suppliers and other retailers. Its in-store education and commitment to phase out red-rated seafood will help raise awareness and improve fishing practices around the world.”
“Blue Ocean Institute applauds Whole Foods Market’s continued commitment to consumer education. Our rankings represent authoritative science that examines the key factors affecting the health of ocean populations,” said Dr. Carl Safina, MacArthur Fellow and founder of Blue Ocean Institute. “The rankings on the Whole Foods Market signs reflect the efforts of seafood science experts. Each also represents information consumers can understand and trust. This partnership will give seafood lovers the tools they need, where they need them—at the seafood counter—to make informed choices on behalf of ocean-friendly seafood.”
Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium are both highly respected for the strength of their science-based seafood programs, which evaluate species and fisheries on life history, abundance, habitat impacts, management practices and bycatch. Both organizations provide customers with information on the sustainability status of fisheries that are not certified by the MSC. Whole Foods Market continues its ongoing partnership with the MSC, the world’s leading certification body for sustainable wild-caught seafood. It uses a multi-stakeholder, international market-based approach to provide incentives for fisheries to address key issues such as overfishing and bycatch. The blue MSC ecolabel identifies wild-caught seafood products that are MSC-certified.
Whole Foods Market previously stopped selling especially vulnerable red-rated species such as non-MSC-certified Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, bluefin tuna, sharks, and marlins (with the exception of Hawaii-caught blue marlin, sold only in Hawaii stores). All swordfish and tuna from red-rated fisheries will be eliminated from seafood counters by Earth Day 2011. By Earth Day 2012, all other seafood from red-rated fisheries will be discontinued with the exception of Atlantic cod and sole, which will be sold through Earth Day 2013.
The company’s new wild-caught seafood rating program and partnerships will complement its existing farmed seafood standards, which remain the highest in the industry. Whole Foods Market requires third-party audits and traceability from hatchery to market, and they prohibit use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, added preservatives like sulfites and phosphates, genetically-modified seafood and land animal by-products in feed. Farmed seafood at Whole Foods Market carries the “Responsibly Farmed” logo to indicate that it meets these high standards.