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Whole Foods: "Don't Buy This Fish"


Chris Hennes
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According to this article, Whole Foods has started putting color-coded labels on their seafood indicating whether it is being caught/raised sustainably/responsibly/etc. This is on actual seafood in the store, apparently: so for example, the display where they are selling Yellowtail Flounder has a big red "AVOID" sticker on it. WF says they are keeping those species for sale to pressure their suppliers to make changes. Has anyone seen these labels in practice? Do you think the campaign will be effective?

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I don't shop at Whole Paycheck, but I think it's a very smart strategy. In one blow, you appeal to environmentalist consumers, help mark out buys for the must-try-before-they're-extinct crowd, and pressure suppliers to give you better volume pricing on greens, and discounts on reds and yellows.

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Yes I see these in our local. Color coded tags on the name of the fish with a corresponding guilt board on the back wall. It does not really say do not buy or avoid. Just some info on how endagered and how caught.

Yes, two monkfish loins please.

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I wish supermarkets would start putting red labels on all farmed fish. The majority of it is rubbish. I brought a hake fillet the other day at Waitrose, we love hake but this wasn’t worth eating. It was soft and flabby with no texture whatsoever. The poor things are confined in cages and don’t get enough exercise to firm the flesh even if they were left to mature properly into decent size fish. I would rather not eat fish if that is all that is available. :sad:

Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society

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"I wish supermarkets would start putting red labels on all farmed fish. The majority of it is rubbish."

I regularly purchase farmed Norwegian salmon, farmed catfish, farmed tilapia and Kona Kampichi, a Hawaiian type of farmed yellow tail suitable for sashimi. All are usually excellent. Fish is a very delicate product and the handling from the fishery to the end user is very important and will affect the quality. Search out a good fishmonger who knows the sources and quality of his farmed fish.

I didn't know that hake was farmed? We never see hake in the Midwest but as I remember from living in Massachusetts, its mostly used in chowder.

In terms of WF's and color labels on fish, I don't shop at WF's because the quality is usually not the best and the prices are sky high.

In terms of sustainability of fish, we eat a lot of fin fish and shellfish, both farmed and wild. Hardly any of it frozen. Anything coming from China is a no go. I suspect that it will take what happened to the Cod off the Grand Banks to get fishers and governments together to regulate the catches.-Dick

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The new initiative is at all whole foods...

Gives you an idea of status of the fish you are buying and is consistent with the rest of their local products (although maybe not as... enlightening).

(donning flame retardant suit and at the risk of surely having community already tread this ground)

How anyone can decry them for helping folks know more about where your food comes from is beyond me. If all you have to shop from is Shop Rite's and AP's and Whole Foods offers your family a way to understand more about their food at a price which is sustainable for vendors and community - the complaint smacks of elitism...

Sure - live in Park Slope Bklyn and shop the Co-op; but the rest of us...

Whole Foods has changed the retail food delivery system.

~waves

"When you look at the face of the bear, you see the monumental indifference of nature. . . . You see a half-disguised interest in just one thing: food."

Werner Herzog; NPR interview about his documentary "Grizzly Man"...

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Wild Edibles in NYC has been doing this for years. They don't editorialize on the labels; they use the uninterpreted rating given by the Blue Ocean Institute. I like this approach; it's definitely influenced my buying habits.

I think it's disengenuous to put a sticker on something you're selling that says "avoid." If you believe it should be avoided, don't sell it. The Blue Ocean ratings simply indicate the seriousness of sustainability issues with each species.

FWIW, 90% of the fish I see at Whole Foods in NYC should be labelled "avoid" purely for freshness reasons. I'm flumoxed by how a store that has such good produce (and reasonably acceptable meat) lets itself get away with such a badly run seafood department. I do shop at WF ... about once a week, and get to check out the fish often.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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Most supermarket fish should be marked avoid. Instead, they're marked often by only a sell-by date. I only buy fish either flash frozen ("sushi grade") or fileted the day of purchase. That, more than organic or wild, matters far more in terms of meat quality.

And I would have no problems eating GMO salmon. If it weren't for human genetic intervention, we wouldn't have broccoli, cauliflower, orange carrots, modern day corn, bananas, dairy cows, etc...

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And I would have no problems eating GMO salmon. If it weren't for human genetic intervention, we wouldn't have broccoli, cauliflower, orange carrots, modern day corn, bananas, dairy cows, etc...

The biggest (suspected) issues with GMO salmon are ecological. We already have problems when farmed fish escape from the farms set off invasive species problems. This is likely to be exacerbated by releasing a species with the monsterous growth hormone potential of the GMO salmon. We don't even know what all the ramifications would be. Personally, I prefer not to support such an endeavor.

Salmon farming is already done in such a dubious manner that I now consider salmon a seasonal fish and try to stick to the wild ones.

Notes from the underbelly

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This just seems really wasteful to me. Wouldn't Whole Foods do better not buying the fish in the first place? Their suppliers would get the message directly.

If they're relying on their customers' voices to reinforce the point, why not just put up a sign "We are no longer purchasing this fish because it's unsustainably harvested/etc." and harness the outcry?

Margo Thompson

Allentown, PA

You're my little potato, you're my little potato,

You're my little potato, they dug you up!

You come from underground!

-Malcolm Dalglish

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GMO are no worry to eat. The technique is just a sped up way to get to the result of generations of selective breeding. In that sense everything that we eat from a farm is GMO.

As an earlier post said the main risk is messing up the natural stocks if the GMO escape. As with anything new we have to weigh the risks and benefits. Is cheaper more abundant food worth the risk?

For salmon, which I cannot see being an answer to ending starvation, my answer is "no".

But Vit A enriched rice for Asia? A clear yes.

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I haven't heard anything about the quality and flavor of the GMO salmon, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were issues. Chickens that have been bred (conventionally) to grow big in a short time don't develop any flavor. This explains much of the difference between supermarket chickens (which typically grow to 4lbs in 6 weeks on 8lbs of feed) and longer-maturing breeds that actually taste like chicken.

Anyone tasted the new breed or heard anything?

Notes from the underbelly

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WF says they are keeping those species for sale to pressure their suppliers to make changes.

I think a more effective way to pressure suppliers to change would be to tell them they will no longer be purchasing unsustainable fish from them - a huge chain like WF could affect real change that way, instead of putting the onus on the consumer to avoid it.

Also, if consumers really do avoid the unsustainable fish, then fish that has already been caught and killed just goes to waste - and is that helping the species recover? Not really.

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I haven't heard anything about the quality and flavor of the GMO salmon, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were issues. Chickens that have been bred (conventionally) to grow big in a short time don't develop any flavor. This explains much of the difference between supermarket chickens (which typically grow to 4lbs in 6 weeks on 8lbs of feed) and longer-maturing breeds that actually taste like chicken.

Anyone tasted the new breed or heard anything?

My understanding is that the GM salmon is not yet available, because it is not yet approved. This will be the FIRST FDA approved GM animal for human consumption.

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I have seen it here at Whole Paycheck, but only for fresh fish. I wish they would expand it to their frozen fish options as well. I do have a bone to pick with marking all farmed fish as safe. IIRC, some fish farming is actually bad for the environment.

Dan

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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