2012-05-29

Co.Exist

How Safeway Became The Best Supermarket For Sustainable Seafood

The chain was recently ranked above Whole Foods as the supermarket chain doing the most to sell fish in a way that doesn’t destroy our oceans. What can other supermarkets learn from its progress?

A massive amount of seafood goes through U.S. supermarkets every day. And then a massive amount of consumers literally consume that seafood. However, environmentally negligent practices make seafood consumption one of the most globally unsustainable industries.

A new report indicates that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Greenpeace’s “Carting Away Our Oceans” (CATO) report describes marked improvements in supermarket sustainability when it concerns seafood. In fact, it features not one, but two retailers--Whole Foods and Safeway--which became the first ever to earn the designation of "good" (a score of 7 out of 10) in the history of the report, which is now in its sixth year.

Safeway ranks #1 with a score of 7.1/10, followed by Whole Foods at #2 with a score of 7.0/10. Wegmans, Harris Teeter, and Target round out the top five. The laggards (the bottom four of 20 supermarkets listed) are Meijer, SuperValu, Publix, and BI-LO/Winn-Dixie.

The report ranks supermarkets based on a number of factors, including sale of “red list” species. Since the CATO project began, the 20 retailers analyzed have stopped the sale of 67 red list species, a drop from 301 to 236, or more than 20% of the total number originally sold. CATO also ranks companies on policies, initiatives, and transparency.

Let’s look at Safeway: It is one of the largest grocery chains in the U.S., with more than 1,700 stores around the country.

Over the past five years, Safeway has discontinued unsustainable items and come out in support of conservation initiatives. It has also provided consumers with more point-of-sale information on the fish they’re buying. Additionally, its own seafood policy has improved significantly, through meaningful and aggressive sourcing guidelines. Take canned tuna, for example. Safeway’s private label canned tuna is now governed by a suite of comprehensive sourcing guidelines that preclude destructive procurement tactics and put into place benchmarks aimed at improving traceability and social welfare issues. Safeway is also a partner with FishWise, a nonprofit environmental organization focused on improving the sale of fish.

Beyond the rankings, CATO recommends moving forward on industry initiatives, such as a traceability system to effectively manage seafood resources, protect against fraud and pirate fishing, and provide greater consumer knowledge.

This is progress, but we still have a ways to go. As Casson Trenor, the author of the Greenpeace report, notes: “We continue to treat our oceans in a wantonly disrespectful manner brought on by a combination of callousness, myopia, and greed.”

The charge to supermarkets is clear:

  • Create an effective, publicly available sustainable seafood policy.
  • Support initiatives and participate in partnerships designed to promote positive change in the oceans.
  • Increase overall transparency in labeling, signage, and chain of custody.
  • Stop selling red list species.

What can consumers do?

Greenpeace recommends: speaking your mind to your local seafood merchant about unsustainable practices, knowing the facts when it comes to red list items, voting with your dollars--and, at the end of the day, simply eating less fish.

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3 Comments

  • Erikvance

    I'm glad that Safeway has hopped on the sustainable bandwagon. I sincerely hope they are sincere. But it's going to take a lot more than this sad couple of throwaway gestures. "Meaningful and aggressive sourcing guidelines?" Please. "A first step," maybe. And that's generous. These rankings are meant to help us take retailers to task. Let's not congratulate the fat kid just because he's the skinniest kid at fat camp.

  • B34NS

    Since were only going by species here and not actual sustainability, I'd suggest we really look into the long term effects of genetically modified fish and fish farms themselves as they tend to be worse for the environment than better. It's a nice badge for safeway to use, but they're model is in fact the problem not the fish.