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Farming Seafood to Tough Standards

By David Pilat, October 30, 2010  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by David Pilat
Whether you call it “fish farming” or go for the more formal term “aquaculture,” people have a variety of concerns about farmed fish. (Yes, wild-caught seafood has its issues too — see our recent post on our new wild seafood ranking program.) Having worked in the seafood business for more than 20 years, I can safely say that one of the biggest changes in the last few decades has been the implementation of the Whole Foods Market Aquaculture standards. Two years ago (in 2008) we launched the toughest Quality Standards for farmed seafood in the trade. Fish farmer who want to work with us must complete a lengthy application detailing all their farming practices (along with a huge list of other things). they must testify that no mammalian or avian by-products are in their feed, that no added hormones are used, and that organophosphate pesticides are never applied. And it’s more than just words — the farm must be certified that they meet our Standards for Farmed Seafood by a 3rd party inspector before any of their fish makes its way to our stores. Not only that, but they must continue to pass annual inspections for as long as they do business with us. Through this process we have discovered some amazing producers. Last week I wrote about some pretty incredible wild-caught Atlantic cod from Iceland. Not to be outdone, the salmon producers in Iceland are providing us with some of the most intriguing farmed salmon available. Salmon raised on land, in tanks, in water heated by geo-thermal springs. This means no escapes, good water quality, and just rich and sweet farmed Atlantic salmon. Currently we are the sole supplier of this amazing yet limited product – found only in our Midwest region stores. Another example is our farmed catfish. We buy 100% of our farmed catfish for all of our stores from one North Carolina producer. They own the hatchery, the farm, the processing plant and the feed mill, providing complete control. You won’t find catfish this clean tasting anywhere else. All around the country, our commitment is strong with local producers. We partner with local trout and tilapia farms in Colorado for our stores there, and many of our southern regions buy farm raised American shrimp from our only domestic shrimp supplier, located in Alabama. So just how tough are our standards? Taking a look at the controversial world of farmed salmon is a good indication. There are thousands of conventional salmon farms in the world; we’ve found four unique producers raising fish on less than ten farms that can meet our requirements (these farms are in Iceland, Scotland and Norway.) As we look to the southern hemisphere, let’s talk tilapia. The majority of tilapia farms across the globe use a hormone called methyltestosterone in production. Whole Foods Market doesn’t allow any added hormones, so we work exclusively with four producers who can meet our requirement for fish free of added hormones — one in the U.S., one in Central America and two in South America. Spoiler Alert (or Special Alert, depending on your point of view!): Some time in the next few weeks (they won’t let me say exactly when), keep your eyes peeled for an incredible value on farm-raised shrimp exclusively from your local Whole Foods fishmonger. With that in mind, here’s the story on farmed shrimp. We source from only three producers and have traceability back to their farms. And these are not your typical farms; our producers meet our standards for protecting the environment by avoiding  mangrove areas to protect sensitive ecosystmes and maintain good water quality. You’ll never find added phosphates or sulfates in our shrimp — we don’t want anything to take away from the sweet, delicate flavor of shrimp raised right. In fact, our shrimp are harvested to order and flash frozen within hours of harvest and you can taste the difference. So how do you know you’re purchasing farmed seafood that meets Whole Foods Market’s strict standards? Of course, shop at our stores! That’s where you’ll find our aquaculture logo — Responsibly Farmed — your assurance that every pound of farmed seafood you purchase from us has been 3rd party verified to meet our standards. These same standards apply for our frozen and smoked offerings too. And remember, if you have questions about our farmed fish, just ask! Our fish mongers are here to help.
Category: Food & Recipes, Seafood

 

40 Comments

Comments

bepkom says ...
Currently, the only tilapia we have from the U.S. is farmed in Colorado. We source from other farms, but they’re not local.
11/03/2010 8:17:27 PM CDT
E. Matthews says ...
Thank You - I have been afraid to eat seafood
11/03/2010 9:58:49 PM CDT
Bill Crofton says ...
<strong>Sent to Carrie.</strong> Hi; If you stipulate limited protein alternatives in fish feed, how are your feed standards helping to reduce aquaculture's reliance on fish meal and fish oil? Bill
11/01/2010 12:36:02 PM CDT
sue says ...
Where do you work with local Tilapia farmers besides Colorado? How about Arizona or California?
11/03/2010 8:16:53 PM CDT
Elaine says ...
I've always avoided farmed salmon due to the excessively high levels of mercury found in them. How do I know your farmed salmon isn't high in mercury as well?
11/04/2010 7:33:09 AM CDT
Catrina says ...
Thank you for going above and beyond if you will....it has gotten so confusing on the farm raised vs wild caught.....thanks for making it clear that it is ok to buy farm raised..from you anyway :)
11/04/2010 10:03:48 AM CDT
bepkom says ...
Fortunately, most farmed fish are low in mercury. They live for a relatively short time so they don't accumulate as much mercury as some species of wild fish. We offer information about this in all of our seafood departments. You should pick up one of the 'Mercury in Seafood' brochures and check it out for information on which species typically have the lowest levels.
11/04/2010 7:34:58 AM CDT
Jeff B. says ...
<strong>emailed Carrie</strong> It's great that you use Seafood Watch for your wild fish. But is your farmed fish on the Seafood Watch green list? Since you're already using Seafood Watch for the wild list, why aren't you using their benchmarks for farmed fish too?
11/04/2010 1:29:57 PM CDT
bepkom says ...
Please download our detailed standards at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/aquaculture.php and check out section 3. We are working hard to reduce the pressure on stocks of wild fish. We do this by setting limits on the amount of allowable fishmeal and fishoil.
11/01/2010 12:37:01 PM CDT
bepkom says ...
We have already developed industry-leading standards for aquaculture (fish farming) with strict requirements for each farm that supplies Whole Foods Market. Monterey Bay Aquarium has evaluated general practices in fish farming, but does not evaluate individual farms and thus cannot fulfill our unique needs for ranking farmed seafood.
11/04/2010 1:30:34 PM CDT
Asics Gel DuoMax says ...
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03/25/2011 3:18:13 AM CDT
ctlefood.com says ...
well, that's a good way to put it before plating it. nice insights. works well for clientele explanation and information resource option...
01/07/2011 7:03:15 PM CST
Amy says ...
What about PCB's in your farmed salmon? We are looking for some healthy fish for our 3 yr old.
01/11/2011 11:02:27 PM CST
diaen says ...
It takes a lot of small fish to feed farmed fish, and I've not heard of those small fish being farmed. So, ironically, to farm a fish, one must feed them a lot of wild caught small fish. I understand that pound per pound, it takes several pounds of wild caught small fish for a single pound of farmed fish. Can you please speak to this practice and Whole Foods standards?
01/12/2011 6:03:41 PM CST
Barbara Aliza says ...
All the info on Salmon sounds good, but you don't give specifics about what the salmon farmed in inland tanks are fed. You say what they are not fed. But what they eat is important. Please advise.
01/29/2012 3:55:25 PM CST
janejohnson says ...
@Barbara I reached out to Carrie Brownstein on our Quality Standards team and she offered the following response: "Whole Foods Market’s standards for farmed fish and shrimp prohibit certain ingredients from being used in feed, such as poultry meal, and require that fish meal and oil is sourced responsibly. We also prohibit antibiotics, parasiticides, and hormones from being included in feed. To check out the details of our feed standards, please visit http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/aquaculture.php. The ingredients used in feed will vary from farm to farm and species to species depending upon the nutritional requirements of the species and the availability of ingredients. Feed includes sources of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. As far as plant-based ingredients are concerned, many farmers use soybean meal. Grains can include wheat flour or rice bran. Some producers of farmed fish use corn, for example, while others don’t. As we mentioned in our seafood blog, in thinking about the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in one’s diet, it’s important to think about one’s entire diet, including the sources of fats one consumes (such as cooking oils). Fish is a good source of lean protein. But it’s a good idea to eat a varied diet that includes fish that are high in omega-3’s, such as salmon and sardines. We encourage you to check our seafood blog, where we discuss this issue in the context of tilapia http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/2008/07/my-aquaculture-journey/#more-367. "
01/31/2012 12:11:56 PM CST
Mimi says ...
I have been reading that farm raised Scottish salmon is the most contaminated salmon there is. It really bums me out because flavor wise, it's my favorite of them all. Is there a difference between this contaminated salmon and the Scottish Atlantic salmon WF carries? If so, what is the difference? Is there artificial coloring added to the WF Atlantic Salmon? Thanks for your help!
02/26/2012 7:23:20 PM CST
janejohnson says ...
@Mimi I reached out to one of our experts, Carrie Brownstein, and here is her response. "Hi Mimi, If you can tell us more specifically what kind of contamination you’re referring to, then we can comment on the specifics of what we require. For example, our standards for farmed salmon require testing for contaminants, such as mercury, PCBs, and dioxins/furans. And we don’t allow any antibiotics or artificial pigments to be used in feed. Please check out our detailed standards at: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/departments/aquaculture.php."
02/27/2012 2:31:47 PM CST
Mimi says ...
<strong>Reaching out. Please await response. </strong> I read through your fish/salmon farming standards and have a much better understanding of the difference between WF farmed Atlantic Salmon and the conventional farm-raised salmon. My only question left unanswered would be regarding their feed. Are they also fed things like soy and corn in addition to the fish and fish oils? Thank you for your help!
02/27/2012 8:53:13 PM CST
Doug Brazil says ...
Much of the talk on nutrition now seems to revolve around issues of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods. Nutrition Data (nutritiondata.self.com) lists Atlantic farm salmon as being "strongly inflammatory" which is not good. However the data may be outdated. Other articles indicate the reason for the bad rating is that most farmed fish are fed a diet rich in Omega-6 vegetable oils, leading to a fish that has relatively low levels of Omega-3. Has any testing been done on the Whole Foods Atlantic Farm salmon to determine where the fish is on the "inflammatory" scale ? Thanks. By the way, it is very tasty stuff and would be hard to avoid despite the results. Doug
08/29/2012 1:53:56 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@DOUG - We do not currently test or rate our foods based on an inflammatory level and encourage each person to make decisions based on their own dietary needs. A great resource is our Aquaculture site, http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture. This site will have a link to our Farm Standards for Farm-Raised Salmon for more information.
08/29/2012 3:40:13 PM CDT
Adam c says ...
What are the levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6 in the farmed Salmon as compared to the wild Salmon? Thanks for being awesome, Whole Foods!
12/25/2012 7:06:02 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@ADAM - Thanks for your question. Unfortunately, our company does not have this information. I would suggest reaching out to a vendor to see if they have conducted these studies. Wish we could have helped!
12/28/2012 2:05:10 PM CST
pat kowalski says ...
Are your farm raised fish fed GMO Corn, or any GMO foods??
12/30/2012 12:26:10 PM CST
Jodi says ...
Is the salmon produced in Iceland Sushi/Sashimi grade? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends freezing fish at −35°C (−31°F) for 15 hours, or at −20°C (−4°F) for 7 days to kill parasites. Is this normally done to achieve Sushi/Sashimi grade salmon? Can I buy the farmed raised salmon from Iceland from your seafood department and make Sushi and Sashimi? Thanks
12/30/2012 8:47:36 PM CST

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