Seeking Sustainability: Whole Foods Red Lights, Green Lights Its Seafood

Megan is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.
No more guesswork. Red, yellow, and green lights point the way to sustainable seafood. (Photo: Jungle Jim&39;s International Market)

The 40 million pocket-sized guides for sustainable seafood that the Monterey Bay Aquarium handed out over the past decade may be spending more time in wallets if fish lovers are shopping at Whole Foods.

The grocery chain implemented a new color-coding program Monday that streamlines the dizzying process that is sustainable dining, highlighting at a glance the environmental impact of its wild-caught seafood.

The company says it is the first national retailer to provide this level of transparency.

Whole Foods was assisted in its fish-friendly endeavor by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute.

The rating system works like a stoplight. Green indicates that a fish is abundant and caught in environmentally friendly ways. Red warns that the species is overfished or caught in a way that harms marine ecosystems. (Yellow indicates reason for concern, but not a definitive stance, on the abudance of a particular fish or the way it's caught.)

Whole Foods also declared it will rid its shelves of "red light" species by Earth Day 2013.

The push to make environmentally conscious seafood decisions is crucial for companies that hope to capitalize on increasing customer awareness.

Just months ago, Trader Joe's buckled to pressure from environmental activists—including Greenpeace, which labeled the company Traitor Joe's—and announced it would sell strictly sustainably sourced seafood by the end of 2012. Greenpeace surveys found that Trader Joe's was serving 14 of 22 red-list seafoods.

As reported by The State, Mike Sutton, vice president of Monterey Bay Aquarium, is pleased with Whole Foods' announcement, and believes that changes made by major retailers can have significant impact on the market as a whole. "You can't buy sustainable seafood if it isn't being sold," he said.

Photo: Jungle Jim's International Market/Creative Commons via Flickr

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