Industry Market Trends

Is the Science Behind the Sustainable Food Movement a Double-Edged Sword?

April 12, 2012

I recently wrote about BJ's setting high sustainability goals with regards to its seafood offerings. Now it looks like Whole Foods is getting in on the sustainable seafood game. When I say "in", I mean all in. According to the Associated Press, Whole Foods "will stop selling fish caught from depleted waters or through ecologically damaging methods." While the move arrives just as supermarkets nationwide try to make their seafood selections more sustainable, it's also indicative of a much wider sustainable food movement brewing that involves good old fashioned science.

So what exactly is Whole Foods banning? How will they monitor such an ambitious undertaking? Here's how the Associated Press describes it:

The natural and organic supermarket chain will no longer carry wild-caught seafood that is "red-rated," a color code that indicates it is either overfished or caught in a way that harms other species. The ratings are determined by the Blue Ocean Institute, an advocacy group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Among the seafood disappearing from Whole Foods shelves will be octopus, gray sole, skate, Atlantic halibut and Atlantic cod caught by trawls, which can destroy habitats. The company will stock sustainable replacements like cod caught on lines and halibut from the Pacific.

"In the long term, what we're really looking to do is help reverse trends of overfishing and bi-catch, so that really we can move the industry as a whole toward greater sustainability," said seafood quality standards coordinator Carrie Brownstein, who  added that Whole Foods is making the shift a year ahead of its internal deadline.

Is Whole Foods' "shift" realistic? If we're to go based on a recent interview published in Nova Scotia's Herald News, the answer is yes, even if it makes life harder for people like John Risely, owner of Clearwater Fine Food of Canada.

Just a few years ago, customers really didn't know where their seafood was coming from or how it was caught, according to Risely. Today is a much different story, as Risely said virtually all of his global customers want to know not just where the seafood comes from, but what management practices are in place around the product.

"They do not want to be associated with a fishery that is not sustainable," he said.

But, like the rest of the world, Risely said government needs to do more to put sustainable best practices in place and not get too caught up in red tape and regulations.

"This involves us having really good science, and that needs to be done by industry and government working together," Risely said. "As you can imagine, science involving the ocean is not perfect and we keep learning."

Speaking of science, Cattle Network recently set out to "clear the air" on sustainable beef via a Beef Sustainability webinar, sponsored by Merck Animal Health. If we're to believe the two scientists who hosted the webinar, there's "strong scientific evidence to refute some of the commonly quoted misinformation regarding greenhouse gas emissions and other aspects of beef's environmental footprint."

One question from the webinar plays into the wider discussion and challenges of the sustainable food movement: "How do we get the consumer to realize sustainability is what we just discussed, basically buying conventional beef?"

Here's part of the answer from Dr. Jude Capper:

The fact that consumers have an increased interest in how their food is produced nowadays is a double-edged sword - it gives us the ability to listen, learn and educate, but also means that the "other side" have an opportunity to do so.

Based on some of these developments in the seafood and beef industries, do you believe the science behind the sustainable food movement a double-edged sword?



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