Our Statement of Support for New Dolphin-Safe Tuna Labeling

April 29, 1999. Whole Foods Market and its subsidiaries support the new standard the U.S. Department of Commerce has adopted for "dolphin safe" tuna. The standard will allow the use of the "dolphin safe" label on tuna caught with huge encircling nets. While critics say the new standard will lead to more dolphins being killed as they get caught in tuna nets, supporters say the change will actually help international efforts to protect dolphin and other marine life.

Here's why: A 1997 law lifted the embargo on tuna caught by encircling nets and it directed the Commerce Department to redefine the dolphin safe label by spring 1999. The law requires an observer from an international oversight group to accompany every tuna boat using encircling nets and that they must certify no dolphin was killed or severely injured for that batch of tuna to carry the dolphin safe label.

Groups such as Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, the Center for Marine Conservation, and the Environmental Defense Fund say that the exclusion of tuna caught through encirclement from the U.S. market has only hindered international efforts to safeguard dolphins. The requirement for observers on tuna boats means that certification beyond just the captain of the boat's word may actually help dolphins in the long run, especially since the specification that tuna fishermen who label their tuna "dolphin safe" cannot "kill or seriously injure" dolphins trapped in circular nets. To do this, tuna boats now hire field workers who wait in the ocean and push down nets so that dolphins can escape. If the net-tenders are unsuccessful, dolphins can die and the tuna haul is deemed "unsafe" by the international observer. Unsafe batches often will be frozen and become fodder for tuna products other than canned tuna.

Nonetheless, major American canneries have stated that they will continue to process only tuna caught without encircling dolphins. These include: Star Kist, Chicken of the Sea, and Bumble Bee. These three processors share about 90% of the US tuna market. After 1990 when Congress and the public raised the issue of dolphins being harmed in the process of catching tuna, much of the US fleet moved out of the Eastern Pacific where yellowfin tuna and dolphins commonly interact. Also, U.S. tuna boats typically fish more for albacore and skipjack tuna, species that dolphin do not run with as they do with yellowfin.

Fleets from Mexico and Venezuela still go after the yellowfin in the eastern tropical Pacific and are therefore most affected by the new dolphin-safe definition in the United States. (Most yellowfin caught today is marketed in Europe.) This month Mexico joined the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission and will begin fishing with the observers and under other US standards. Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund said her organization sees "the new standard as a template for resolving some of these complex environmental and trade problems that have hurt our dolphin populations."

The tuna used for our "365 Every Day Value Brand" tuna is tongol and albacore. Our research and development team for our private label products, after a visit to the manufacturer of our 365 tuna, prepared the following statement:

Fisheries Certificate of Origin: Often there are fish from more than one boat used in the canning process. There is a Fisheries Certificate for each boat and fishing area included in the import documentation. The packer of our 365 tuna guarantees that none of our tuna originates in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

Captain's Statement: For each catch there is a certificate from the captain of the ship showing the fishing dates, the vessel, the area of the catch and certification that no purse seine or large-scale drift net was used to encircle dolphins. The new certification procedure as approved by the US Department of Commerce, which includes the requirement of an independent observer, will help ensure the safety of the dolphins.

Dolphin Safe Certificate: A certificate from the packer listing the ship, registration number, date of voyage and method of fishing used.

HACCP Certificate: For each export the plant must complete a HACCP certificate guaranteeing compliance with its U.S. Government approved (HACCP) quality assurance program.

Can Coding: Each can carries a can code, which allows us to trace the product back to the vessel the fish were caught on.

Kosher: The plants that can our tuna are now certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. The plants are inspected on an ongoing basis by the OU. In the near future you will see the OU symbol on our labels.