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Farming Seafood Sustainably

US - What with aquaculture becoming the next big issue at the dinner table, supermarkets are introducing new standards for the farmed fish and shrimp that make up roughly half of U.S. seafood consumption, riding a wave of consumer demand for environmentally friendly products.

Whole Foods last month announced the first comprehensive set of aquaculture guidelines by a major retailer. According to an article by the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Wal-Mart has established standards for farmed shrimp and certified its factories with the Aquaculture Certification Council. And Wegmans worked with Environmental Defense Fund on its farmed-shrimp policy to ban antibiotics, avoid damaging sensitive habitats, treat waste water and reduce the use of wild fish to feed shrimp.

“There are actually a lot of farmers right now who are trying to do the right thing,” said Jill Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the World Wildlife Fund, which has advised Whole Foods on its standards. “Things are moving in the right direction.”

"There are actually a lot of farmers right now who are trying to do the right thing. Things are moving in the right direction."
Jill Schwartz, spokeswoman for the World Wildlife Fund

Demand for seafood has grown as U.S. consumers increasingly accept it as an alternative to red meat and poultry. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week for the omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart. Americans on average ate 16.5 pounds of seafood in 2006, up from 15.6 pounds in 2000, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Supermarkets increasingly rely on the $70 billion worldwide aquaculture industry to help meet that demand as the supply of wild-caught fish remains limited. Although the non-profit Marine Stewardship Council provides certification for suppliers of wild-caught seafood, there is no widely accepted standard for sustainable farming practices.

Several groups are establishing aquaculture guidelines. The World Wildlife Fund launched its “aquaculture dialogues” several years ago and plans to announce standards for tilapia by the end of the year, followed by catfish, several mollusks, shrimp and salmon next year.

The Global Aquaculture Alliance has established standards for shrimp and some catfish and is expected to unveil a plan for tilapia soon. And in Europe, the Global Partnership for Good Agriculture Practice certifies salmon and trout and is working on shrimp and tilapia, among others.

But Whole Foods said it decided to develop its own comprehensive plan two years ago, and it began consulting with environmental groups and scientists and visiting its suppliers’ farms. The company said it may modify its guidelines as consensus is reached among advocacy organizations.

The new policies would apply to all seafood except mollusks.

They include prohibitions on preservatives, antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals that can be harmful to humans but are typically used to stave off sickness and encourage growth in fish.