Strict Standards Keep Whole Foods' Seafood Sustainable
Strict standards have meant few seafood suppliers for Whole Foods, but plenty of praise from champions of sustainability.
Whole Foods puts suppliers through a lengthy evaluation process before doing business with them. The lucky few receive a stringent, third-party audit each year.
The intense attention is warranted, as the production of farmed fish continues to outpace beef production. Pollution, habitat damage and disease are among the issues organizations like the Monterey Bay Aquarium have identified with aquaculture or fish farming.
Whole Foods' response to these issues earned it the No. 1 spot on Greenpeace's ranking of sustainable seafood retailers earlier this year. Seafood quality standards coordinator Carrie Brownstein told GreenBiz.com that the company began working on the standards in the '90s with the aid of collaborations that continue to shape practices at 362 stores in the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom.
"In the beginning, it was really focused on wild caught species and our collaboration with the Marine Stewardship Council," she said. "We also stopped selling a number of species that were especially vulnerable, like Bluefin Tuna and shark."
Brownstein said Whole Foods personnel visit fish farms and consult with various environmental groups and governmental and collegiate scientists to make sure their standards are as sustainable as possible. In 2006, the company created standards for farmed salmon, followed by shrimp and other finfish the following year.
"We continue to work on aquaculture because our process is continuous and always evolving, so as we learn more about what’s happening in the industry, we continually improve and update our standards," she said.
Those standards include:
- No antibiotics, added growth hormones and poultry and mammalian by-products in farm-fish feed.
- Producers must minimize the environmental impacts of fish farming by protecting mangrove forests and wetlands, monitoring water quality to prevent pollution and sourcing feed ingredients responsibly.
- Enforcing protocols to ensure that farmed seafood does not escape into the environment and that wildlife around the farm is protected.
Brownstein didn't provide any figures to display a change in behavior among Whole Foods suppliers, but said the company forbid the use fishing nets treated with copper-based antifoulants.
"These kinds of things are toxic to the marine environment and we didn’t want that to be getting into the water and affect other aspects of the ecosystem or other animals," she said. "So, we gave the producers time to allow for all of our suppliers to stop using that.
"What that did was, that reduces the overall amount of copper that’s entering into the water."
In its "Carting Away the Oceans 7" report, Greenpeace listed Whole Foods as one of five retailers that made a full commitment to not selling genetically modified seafood. The organization applauded Whole Foods' rise from fourth place in sustainability two years ago to first place in 2013.
"Your discontinuation of two more red list species—ocean quahog and South Atlantic albacore—provided the wind for your sails," Greenpeace wrote about Whole Foods' rise.
"You also continue to adhere to the most rigorous sustainable seafood policy in the industry."
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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