Wegmans Food Markets and Bon Appetit Management Co. announced last week that they are working with Environmental Defense to adopt new sustainable seafood sourcing policies.
"This is a new set of standards that makes the conditions for accepting farmed salmon much stricter than ever before. Bon Appetit and Wegmans have both agreed to purchase salmon that is produced according to these strict standards," said Haven Bourque, a spokeswoman for Bon Appetit, a high-end foodservice company that emphasizes local and sustainable seafood practices in its cafés at universities, corporations and specialty venues. "Before these standards were put in place Bon Appetit would only buy wild salmon. But now they believe this salmon is sustainable enough that they're willing to purchase it."
"Over the last few years we have heard an increase in the number of [consumer] concerns over farmed salmon. That is why we were interested in this program when Environmental Defense came to us," said Jeanne Colleluori, a spokeswoman for Wegmans, a 69-store supermarket chain in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland that is known for its employee- and consumer-friendly policies.
In addition to concerns about farmed seafood, recent reports have found high levels of mercury in some species of wild fish, leaving consumers bewildered about what fish, if any, is safe to eat. By addressing many of the concerns about farmed fish, Wegmans hopes to make seafood an easier choice for consumers.
Seafood suppliers participating in the program must meet at least five of eight health and environmental criteria. The purchasing standards set strict levels of PCBs and other contaminants that may not be exceeded, and require producers to reduce impacts on wild salmon and the marine environment. They also prohibit the use of hormones, genetically modified fish and, except when therapeutically essential, antibiotics.
Bourque acknowledged that some "hard core" food activists will be unhappy because the standards do not require closed containment systems. "Is it 100 percent? No. Is it about 99 percent? Yeah." She said Environmental Defense, an environmental advocacy group, developed the standards in cooperation with aquaculture companies and with companies that could actually use them, such as Wegmans and Bon Appetit. The Monterey Bay Aquarium approved the standards.
"We are really hoping that other retailers will review the standards and encourage their suppliers to adopt them," Colleluori said. The standards are available at www.environmentaldefense.org.
Wegmans is launching its program with farmed king salmon, but plans to eventually expand the program to other seafood species. In the meantime, it will continue to offer wild salmon in season and other traditionally farmed seafood. "For customers who prefer farmed salmon for its milder flavor and lower price, or want salmon year-round, we want to give them farmed salmon that is healthy, safe and good for the planet," the company said on its Web site.
Wegmans doesn't yet have a deadline for other seafood species to meet the environmental criteria. "We will be talking with suppliers, encouraging them to move in the direction of these standards," Colleluori said. "It's a matter of them having time to look at the standards and figure out what they need to do to change their way of doing business so they can meet the standards. This is a joint effort to make improvements in the environment."
Colleluori said neither suppliers nor consumers should see a substantial increase in their costs. "Environmental Defense strives to find ways to overcome environmental hurdles that benefit the consumer but doesn't heavily penalize the industry itself," she said. "They try to find affordable new ways to do things better."