Word of Mouth

Whole Foods Market announces in-store sustainability ranking system for wild-caught seafood

We can't even count the number of times we've stood agonizing over our decision in front of the seafood case, pondering the conundrum of farm-raised versus wild-caught salmon and whether our choice of tilapia or ahi grade tuna or fat silver prawns is going to single-handedly have an effect on depleting fish populations around the globe.

Luckily, at some point in the past couple of years, we picked up handy little pocket charts from Seafood Watch, a seafood sustainability ranking program organized by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. That guide divides the fish that most often end up on the plate into three categories: best choices, good alternatives and avoid.

Now, Whole Foods is going a step further to allay our worries. In partnership with the Seafood Watch program and the Blue Ocean Institute, the retailer is rolling out an in-store ranking system for all wild-caught seafood--and vowing to phase out any species that fall into the "avoid" category by Earth Day, 2013.

That means the market will get rid of bluefin tuna and Chilean seabass not explicitly approved by the Marine Stewardship Council, an organization that monitors and endorses many of Whole Foods' sources of fish. Fish that's MSC-approved is labeled by the organization's seal.

Whole Foods also employs a system of standards for the farmed seafood it offers, working only with hatcheries that prohibit use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, added preservatives and land animal by-products in feed.

The new sustainability efforts come in response to reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that 80 percent of fisheries are overfished or depleted.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk