Whole Foods Institutes Sustainability Color-Codes for Wild-Caught Fish

Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFMI) on Monday launched an in-store color-coded sustainability rating program for wild-caught seafood. The company also announced a commitment to phase out all red-rated species by Earth Day 2013.

Partnering with Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, Whole Foods Market says it is the first national grocer to provide a comprehensive sustainability rating system for wild-caught seafood. The system’s green, yellow and red ratings make it simpler 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.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that 80% of fisheries are fully exploited, overfished, or depleted.

“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,” said Michael Sutton, vice president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who
oversees its Seafood Watch program.

Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium both 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 largest 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. 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.

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