Posts Tagged sustainability ratings

May 28 2012

Whole Foods Is Wrong Says Industry, Environmentalists, Scientists, Congress and Government Data

Note: The article below is a companion piece that compliments Ray Hilborn’s article, Eat Your Hake and Have It, Too. Although the focus of this article is on east coast species, there are also a few species on the west coast that have received less than favorable ratings on the Seafood Watch Card.


“I haven’t been judged by this many people since I forgot my canvas bags at Whole Foods.” 
– Character of Mitchell Pritchett, ABC’s “Modern Family”

by Bob Vanasse and John Cooke |  Saving Seafood Staff

WASHINGTON – For some time, Whole Foods Market has used green issues as part of its marketing effort, appealing to the legitimate concerns of its customers for environmental protection and sustainability.  On a recent episode of ABC’s hit series “Modern Family”, the character of Mitchell Pritchett, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, delivered a punch line about shopping-bag sanctimony in the store’s check out lines.  On Earth Day of this year, Whole Foods extended the sanctimony to their fish counters, announcing they would no longer allow their customers to buy fish rated “red” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute.

Since that policy was introduced on Earth Day, industry leaders, environmental advocates, fisheries scientists, and lawmakers have gone on record either directly opposing – or presenting information raising serious questions and doubts about – the “red” sustainability ratings.  In addition, information made public by the federal government, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), directly contradicts many of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean assertions.

Michael Conathan of the Center for American Progress wrote, “Whole Foods’ decision to cast its sustainability lot with national organizations that fail to account for the localized impacts of their policy pronouncements also speaks directly to the broader problem of the consolidation of our food-purchasing decisions. Policies set at a corporate level will inherently be made in the best interests of the company. Environmental health or animal cruelty issues may play a role, but at the end of the day the decision will come down to what’s best for the company’s bottom line.”

Ray Hilborn, professor of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences at the University of Washington and author, along with his wife Ulrike Hilborn, of Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know, published in 2012 by Oxford University Press, is highly critical of the science behind Monterrey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute’s ratings. In an op-ed in the New York Times, the Hilborns write that the ratings “are based on a misunderstanding of what constitutes a sustainable fishery. The fact is that we can harvest a certain fraction of a fish population that has been overfished, if we allow for the natural processes of birth and growth to replace what we take from the ocean and to rebuild the stock.”

They go on to write that American fisheries are some of the best managed in the world, and that in the last 11 years NOAA has declared 27 species rebuilt to healthy levels. They note that even species that are considered overfished are governed by catch limits to ensure sustainability, and “there were no apparent conservation benefits from the refusal of consumers to buy those overfished species.”

The Hiborns’ claims are backed up by data from NOAA’s Fish Watch, a program by NOAA Fisheries to provide seafood consumers with the most up-to-date information on seafood sustainability. According to NOAA, several of the red-rated (“avoid”) seafood species on Monterrey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute’s seafood list are not as threatened as their ratings would suggest. Rather, these species are heavily regulated to ensure their conservation and rebuilding.

Read the full article on SavingSeaFood.