Whole Foods launches seafood rating system

While Whole Foods Market has always been an advocate of selling sustainable seafood, the Austin, Texas-based chain of natural food stores is expanding its program and eliminating some fish species deemed unsustainable.

Whole Foods claimed on Monday that it is the first national grocer to provide a science-based sustainability ratings for wild-caught seafood. Working with the Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, the retailer says it will use Monterey Bay’s red, yellow and green rating system for categorizing its wild-caught seafood. The new program expands upon Whole Foods’ partnership with the Marine Stewardship Council, in place since 1999.

Whole Foods will also phase out all red-rated species by Earth Day 2013. By Earth Day 2011, the retailer will stop selling swordfish and tuna from red-rated fisheries, and, by Earth Day 2012, all red-rated seafood will be discontinued, with the exception of Atlantic cod and sole.

Whole Foods had already stopped selling red-rated species that it determined were “especially vulnerable,” including non-MSC-certified Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, bluefin tuna, shark and marlin. Only Hawaii-caught blue marlin is carried in Whole Foods’ Hawaii stores.

“The new color-coded rating system is a transparent way to provide sustainability status information. Along with our promise to phase out red-rated species, [this] deepens our commitment to having fully sustainable seafood departments,” said Carrie Brownstein, Whole Foods’ seafood quality standards coordinator.

Meanwhile, Dr. Carl Safina, founder of the Blue Ocean Institute, said the organization’s seafood rankings that Whole Foods is using are based on science.

“Our rankings represent authoritative science that examines the key factors affecting the health of ocean populations,” said Safina. Blue Ocean studies how the ocean is changing and how everything humans do — both on land and at sea — affects the waters, wildlife and people, according to the organization.

Meanwhile, Whole Foods’ new sustainable standards for wild-caught fish complement its existing standards for farmed seafood, which carries the “Responsibly Farmed” logo.

“Whole Foods Market required third-party audits and traceability from hatchery to market, and they prohibit the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones…genetically modified seafood and land animal byproducts in feed,” according to a Whole Foods statement.

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