Making the Responsible Choice: A Collaborative Effort to Eradicate Human Trafficking, Forced Labor in Seafood Supply Chains

Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice initiative is more than a commitment to food safety and protecting the environment, it’s also about responsible sourcing and that includes the safety and well-being of the men and women working throughout the supply chain. In light of the exposure of human trafficking in Southeast Asia and Thailand over the past couple of years and its relation to the seafood industry, Hy-Vee and FishWise urge customers and businesses to support and take interest in how their seafood is being sourced.

The key to responsible sourcing is knowledge. Often times, leading seafood buyers across the globe are indirectly supporting mistreatment of laborers by buying and selling seafood from unregulated markets. One of the biggest issues related to this issue in U.S. seafood procurement is traceability. Without knowledge of where the product came from, companies cannot verify supply chain compliance with labor laws and human rights standards. The issue is further complicated in seafood supply chains when demand for low prices undermines responsible business practices, and a lack of regulations and inadequate oversight open the door for various labor abuses.

Hy-Vee is continuously working to improve transparency in its seafood supply chains by ensuring their products are traceable back to the point of harvest — whether it’s a fishery or farming operation. To this end, Hy-Vee regularly collects information about the chain of custody and sustainability of seafood products from their suppliers, and Hy-Vee’s seafood vendors have been notified of the commitment to responsible sourcing and traceability.

As a customer, there are several ways you can be part of the conversation. First, ask questions when purchasing seafood in a store or at a restaurant. Questions related to where the seafood came from, how they trace their seafood and if the seafood is a responsibly sourced item produced with fair labor standards are a good place to start. This sends the message that traceability is important to you and encourages business owners to be held accountable. From there, you can take action by supporting retailers and restaurants that are committed to responsible sourcing.

Hy-Vee has committed to selling responsibly sourced fresh and frozen seafood that is rated as a Green “Best Choice” or a Yellow “Good Alternative” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, certified to an environmental standard equivalent to these ratings, or sourced from credible, time-bound improvement projects. You can make informed and sustainable seafood purchasing decisions by utilizing the seafood buying guides on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website at seafoodwatch.org or the Seafood Watch app on your smartphone.

In addition to customer concern, all companies must implement responsible sourcing plans to ensure that human trafficking, forced labor and other human rights violations are not present in their supply chains. U.S. retailers, foodservice providers, distributors and others in the supply chain can use their buying power to lead change in the entire seafood industry.

There are several steps U.S. seafood businesses can take to ensure they are not buying seafood associated with human rights abuses. First and foremost, organizations should ensure products can be traced to origin and names and addresses of all entities that handled the product can be identified. Companies can also support labor audits through all steps in the supply chain, ensure each link in the supply chain makes a documentable pledge to customers to avoid labor abuse, share concerns and stipulate procurement on the supplier’s ability to regulate human trafficking and labor violations, and finally, communicate clearly with customers. This entails providing the origin of fisheries and the actions taken to guarantee products are not connected to human rights abuses, labor violations or environmental damage.

Hy-Vee has taken steps to ensure responsible sourcing through the Responsible Choice initiative. With collaborative efforts, we can all help to eradicate human trafficking and forced labor in today’s global seafood industry.

For more information visit FishWise’s Human Trafficking, Forced Labor Q & A:
http://fishwise.org/index.php/press/blog/286-human-trafficking-forced-labor-and-seafood-q-a

Hy-Vee Responsible Choice Initiative Sets a High Bar for Seafood Traceability

Up to 32 percent of seafood imported to the United States is caught illegally, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Marine Policy in April 2014. Illegally harvested seafood, along with its many implications – nutritional concern, sourcing methods and environmental impact – is one of the reasons Hy-Vee is working to ensure it is part of the solution when it comes to responsible seafood.

Hy-Vee holds itself to high standards through the Responsible Choice initiative, especially dealing with transparency and traceability. Illegally harvested seafood is currently entering the U.S. through legitimate market channels, making it essential that Hy-Vee and all retailers implement and follow strict traceability measures. That is why Hy-Vee has committed to having its seafood traceable back to the point of harvest, either the source vessel or farm, by the end of 2015. And our progress is encouraging. As of January 2015, 79 percent of Hy-Vee’s fresh and private label frozen seafood met the goal of being responsibly sourced and traceable.

Through the Responsible Choice initiative, Hy-Vee has established strict criteria when it comes to traceability. But what does this actually mean? Traceable seafood can be tracked through each link in the supply chain to its original source. It is crucial to ensure food safety, logistical efficiency, sustainability claims, legality of catch or farm, and proper labeling.

Hy-Vee is able to establish and enforce its responsible seafood efforts with the help of our non-governmental organization partner, FishWise. The organization works with companies throughout the seafood supply chain to support conservation through environmentally responsible business practices.

To this end, Hy-Vee has taken several steps to ensure traceability remains a high priority by regularly collecting information about the chain of custody and sustainability attributes of seafood products from our suppliers; periodically conducting desktop audits of seafood items to ensure they are traceable from a Hy-Vee store back to the point of harvest; and working with vendors to meet our commitment to responsible sourcing and traceability.

Additionally, Hy-Vee has supported federal legislation aimed at minimizing the amount of illegal seafood imported into the United States. Hy-Vee recently sent letters to members of Congress urging them to pass legislation that would close U.S. ports to vessels suspected of carrying illegally harvested fish.

Hy-Vee continues to keep our customers and the environment top of mind. It is our job, and the responsibility of retailers like us, to ensure only a safe, quality selection of seafood is provided to our customers. The Responsible Choice initiative lays the groundwork and sets a standard for us to follow. Traceability is a key component in providing an environmentally responsible and safe product for our customers, and a commitment we are proud to keep.

Sources:
Ganapathiraju Pramod, Katrina Nakamura, Tony J. Pitcher, Leslie Delagran. Estimates of illegal and unreported fish in seafood imports to the USA. Marine Policy, April 2014.

Hy-Vee Defines Six Fields of Sustainability, Upholds Commitment to Responsible Choice Initiative

Today’s consumers are interested in and concerned about their food supply. From nutritional value and quality to sourcing and environmental impact, customers are asking for transparency. Through Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood initiative, the company has taken it upon itself to provide a new level of consumer confidence.

Hy-Vee takes its commitment to responsible seafood seriously, which is why the company requires a thorough assessment before a seafood offering may be deemed a Responsible Choice item. As part of Hy-Vee’s Seafood Procurement Policy, vendors are required to provide comprehensive information on six fields of sustainability for the shipment to be labeled “Responsible Choice.” These six fields ensure best practices are being met and vendors are accountable for their products. It also ensures products can be traced back to their origin.

The six fields include:

  1. The seafood’s generic, market name. This field lists the generic, market name most commonly used in the store, and the name most customers would recognize. For this example, we will use Alaska pollock. The market name for this seafood is Alaska pollock.
  2. Scientific species name. The species name discloses the seafood’s full scientific name, which is often in Latin or Greek. The Latin name for Alaska pollock is Theragra chalcogramma.
  3. Country of catch or production. This field notes the country in which the product was caught or farmed and ensures the first degree of traceability is met. The Alaska pollock was caught in the United States.
  4. Region of catch or production. The region field describes specifically the ocean, lake or location of the farm in which the product was caught. This also aids in traceability efforts and holds vendors accountable for their catch. Alaska was the region of catch for the Alaska pollock.
  5. Gear type/production method. This field names the method used to catch or farm the product, which ensures seafood vendors are utilizing responsible fishing practices as approved by the Responsible Choice program. This means the seafood was harvested in a way that provides for its long-term viability and also minimizes damage to the environment and other sea life. The gear type for Alaska pollock is midwater trawl.
  6. Sustainability eco-certification (if applicable). The final field requires the vendor to provide the name of the organization(s) from which it obtained certification. Hy-Vee and the seafood industry trust accredited third-party resources to ensure the vendor meets industry standards and follows best practices. An example is a certification or accreditation from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

Based on this information, Hy-Vee and FishWise then determine if the product should receive Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice label, which indicates that the product meets Hy-Vee’s standard for responsibly sourced seafood. Hy-Vee defines “responsibly sourced” as seafood that is Green or Yellow rated by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program or is certified to an environmental standard equivalent to these thorough ratings (e.g. MSC certified).

Ultimately, Hy-Vee’s goal in assessing each vendor according to these six sustainability fields is to ensure each utilizes environmentally-friendly practices, is transparent regarding where the product was caught or raised, and provides a safe, quality product for their customers. Each of these six fields is listed on the product’s master case label and is available to customers upon request.

Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood initiative is more than an idea, it is a promise to customers. Hy-Vee’s commitment is executed through each purchasing decision and reflects the standards set within the Responsible Choice initiative.

One-Year Anniversary of Responsible Choice Labeling

There is a growing concern among consumers about the safety, nutritional value and environmental friendliness of the food they purchase.

Responsible Choice Label In order to address those concerns at our Hy-Vee seafood counters, one year ago we began labeling seafood products that meet our strict environmental standards with the blue and green Responsible Choice label. The labeling program was designed and implemented in order to spread awareness of the importance of responsibly sourced seafood and to inform our customers about our leadership in protecting marine resources and ensuring future seafood supplies.

The Responsible Choice label identifies seafood products that come from well-managed sources that minimize the environmental impacts of harvesting or farming. Specifically, these products are rated either Green (Best Choice) or Yellow (Good Alternative) by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, or are certified to an equivalent environmental standard [for example, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification].

Throughout the past year, we have been steadily adding labels to seafood items that have been transitioned to responsible sources, increasing the number of items our customers can feel good about purchasing. For example, you may have noticed that more and more shrimp items display the Responsible Choice label. That’s because we have been hard at work behind the scenes collaborating with our nonprofit partner FishWise to encourage more of our farmed shrimp suppliers to become certified to the rigorous Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices standard.

As a large retailer, Hy-Vee has an important role to play in marine conservation. Through our buying power and marketing of responsibly sourced seafood, we are creating positive change. You can read more details about the Responsible Choice label and our conservation initiatives on our recently updated Responsible Choice Seafood website.

Hy-Vee’s One-Year Anniversary of the 2015 Responsible Sourcing Commitment Announcement

One year ago we were pleased to announce the addition of a Responsible Sourcing Commitment to our comprehensive Seafood Procurement Policy. The policy and commitment were developed in partnership with FishWise, a non-profit organization focused on supporting sustainability through environmentally responsible business practices.

To protect marine resources and ensure future seafood supplies, Hy-Vee committed to sell responsibly sourced fresh and private label frozen seafood that is rated as a Green “Best Choice” or Yellow “Good Alternative” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, certified to an environmental standard equivalent to these ratings, or sourced from credible, time-bound improvement processes by the end of 2015.

Hy-Vee added the Responsible Sourcing Commitment to its Seafood Procurement Policy to underscore our company’s commitment to providing high quality seafood that is safe for consumption and also harvested or raised in a manner that provides for its long-term viability (sustainability) while minimizing damage to the environment and other sea life.

Hy-Vee is steadily working toward the goal established in our policy. In January 2014, 62 percent of the fresh and private label frozen seafood offered at Hy-Vee met the commitment. As of January 2015, 79 percent of our fresh and private label frozen seafood now meets the commitment, which is a 17 percent increase in just one year!

We continue to strengthen our traceability and transparency through the Responsible Choice labeling program. Seafood products bearing the Responsible Choice symbol meet Hy-Vee’s policy and are caught or farmed in a responsible manner. Specifically, these options are Green or Yellow rated as described above, or certified to an environmental standard equivalent to these ratings.

As we approach the 2015 year-end deadline, we will focus on increasing the number of Responsible Choice items available to customers, including farmed salmon and farmed shrimp items.

Hy-Vee is leading major retailers through our conservation initiative efforts. You can read more details on our recently updated Responsible Choice Seafood website. We’re working to continue our progress in the coming year. We are dedicated to achieving our 2015 goal, and will continue to be responsible seafood champions in the years ahead.

Lessons Learned from the Global Outlook on Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) Conference

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a retail panel discussion at the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s annual Global Outlook on Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

This year’s overarching theme was “Celebrating Leadership” in acknowledgement of the challenges of responsible aquaculture and the need for collaboration to overcome those challenges. Being relatively new to the field of responsible aquaculture, I took full advantage of the opportunity to learn from the industry experts, retailer and foodservice buyers, investors, and academic researchers in attendance.

In my opinion, there are four main takeaways from the conference:

  1. Early mortality syndrome (EMS) in farmed shrimp is still a major problem and seafood buyers should diversify their sources to minimize risk
  2. Zone management of farm clusters is a potential solution to the looming dilemma of how to develop the aquaculture industry responsibly
  3. Responsible feed production will require a shift from wild fish protein to alternative protein sources
  4. There is widespread acknowledgement that human rights abuses in the aquaculture industry are real and need to be addressed but there is uncertainty around how

The first two takeaways are closely linked. Zone management was touted as an effective solution to fight EMS and prevent future aquaculture epidemics. Showing strong support for this view, the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) announced the development of a fifth star in the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification scheme for zone management. GAA was vague on the details of the standard, but seemed confident that it will be able to address a wide range of aquaculture challenges, including disease management and engaging small-scale farmers.

The topic of responsible feed was the most divisive. Alternatives to wild fish protein are severely lacking. Soybeans, rendered animal products and insects were discussed as alternatives, but none struck me as being both viable and responsible in the short term. The path forward appears to be a two-pronged approach of improving the fisheries involved in fishmeal and fish oil production through improvement projects and continuing to research and develop alternatives.

The issue of human rights was clearly the newest and the most uncomfortable for conference attendees to discuss. Everyone passionately agreed that something must be done, but what and how? Fortunately, FishWise has been tracking the issue of human rights abuses in seafood supply chains for some time now and so I was able to make a contribution to this area of discussion during the retail panel.

Despite the numerous challenges facing aquaculture, the tone of the conference was optimistic. Everyone agrees that growing the aquaculture industry in an environmentally and socially responsible way is critical and that collaboration between different links in the supply chain is necessary to achieve this goal.

Hy-Vee Supports Fishery Improvements in the Gulf of Mexico and Indonesia, Honors Commitment to Responsible Choice Initiative

In a market where consumers are concerned about their food supply – where their food is sourced, the environmental impact and overall quality – Hy-Vee has taken significant strides to improve upon each aspect. As part of Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood initiative, Hy-Vee is supporting various fishery improvement projects (FIPs) to improve management practices, sustainability and traceability efforts.

What is a FIP? Let’s take a closer look. As defined by the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, a network of organizations to which my organization FishWise belongs, a FIP is a multi-stakeholder effort to improve a fishery that draws upon market forces. Other components for a successful FIP include a work plan and budget, buy-in from stakeholders to make changes and provide funding, and a system in place to monitor progress. Several goals may be established as part of the improvement project. From funding for improved, sustainable gear to increased data collection and certification, retailers can support FIPs in different ways.

Ultimately, Hy-Vee’s goal in supporting FIPs is to ensure each fishery utilizes environmentally friendly practices and provides a safe, quality product for its customers. Hy-Vee wants to be proactive in raising the performance of all the fisheries they source from to meet their Responsible Choice standard for seafood.

Gulf of Mexico Shrimp FIPs
With ninety percent of Gulf shrimp consumed in the United States, the U.S. shrimp industry in the Gulf of Mexico initiated FIPs to ensure it minimized its impact on the environment. Currently, two FIPs are underway in U.S. waters off the coast of Texas and Louisiana for wild-caught brown and white shrimp. Both at Stage 5, creating improvements on the water, each FIP has separate goals.

The Texas Shrimp FIP has two goals: one, to reduce bycatch of non-target species, which can be very high in wild shrimp fisheries; and two, to enforce regulations mandating the use of turtle excluder devices on shrimp trawls. Each goal focuses on improvements for an environmentally conscious catch.

Goals of the Louisiana Shrimp FIP are to create a state Fishery Management Plan and publicize data on bycatch from shrimp trawls and regulations compliance. This type of transparency and responsible management is exactly what Hy-Vee is looking for when considering a supplier.

As part of its commitment to responsibly sourced seafood, Hy-Vee is supporting the improvement projects and sending a strong message to consumers by only purchasing Gulf of Mexico shrimp from supplier Paul Piazza, one of the companies leading FIP activities in both Texas and Louisiana.

Indonesia Snapper and Grouper FIP
Located in the Arafura, Aru and Timor Seas in Indonesia, the Snapper and Grouper FIP is a Stage 3, encouraging improvements in the fishery. The project has three main goals, including support of research to define stock status of Indonesian snapper and promote availability of accurate data; promote traceability to ensure knowledge of origin; and improve overall management of the fishery to encourage sustainable snapper and grouper fishing.

The group of seafood companies executing the FIP recently updated the work plan to indicate progress toward improving the understanding of the species being fished, and promoting legal and responsible fishing methods. This type of commitment and progress is essential for Hy-Vee to continue toward a sustainable future.

As part of the Responsible Choice seafood initiative, Hy-Vee is supporting the Indonesian Snapper and Grouper FIP by only purchasing Malabar snapper from North Atlantic, a supplier heavily involved in the improvement project.

By showing support of suppliers actively participating in FIPs, Hy-Vee is acknowledging and rewarding these organizations for their continuous improvements in sustainability, traceability and environmental stewardship. Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood initiative is more than an idea; it is a promise to customers. Hy-Vee’s commitment is executed through each purchasing decision and reflects the standards set within the Responsible Choice initiative.

Hy-Vee Sets a New Standard When It Comes to Local – Sourcing Hybrid Striped Bass and Barramundi from the Heartland

Authored by John Rohrs & Kathleen Mullen-Ley

In a country that imports over 90 percent of its seafood, it’s rare to find a restaurant or grocery store that sources its seafood locally. However, with Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood program, we are doing just that by achieving the highest standards, keeping a close eye on environmental stewardship and upholding accountability to our customers.

Regarding the fresh hybrid striped bass and barramundi in our case daily, the local story begins with a family-owned and operated company in Blairsburg, Iowa – Iowa’s First. Hy-Vee learned about the forward-thinking style of raising seafood inland and jumped at the opportunity to transition from international sources to a local partner. And the benefits are endless.

Encouraged by FishWise, our nonprofit sustainable seafood partner, to utilize land-based aquaculture systems, Hy-Vee is proud to partner with another environmentally conscious company as part of our Responsible Choice initiative. Land-based aquaculture systems mitigate or eliminate many of the negative impacts to the surrounding environment typical of traditional ocean-based aquaculture systems and minimize biosecurity risks.

Sourcing from a local, land-based fish farm also leads to exemplary traceability. In fact, in a land-based system, each fish is observed and handled with care from the farm to your plate. Ongoing efforts to improve the quality of product are constant. For example, this summer Iowa’s First implemented a new system of LED lighting to simulate sunrise and sunset times, which is key to improving feeding time and managing stress levels of the fish.

Iowa’s First utilizes a flow through system to remove waste properly that ensures the system remains clean without the use of antibiotics. This is done by using a series of tanks to warm and oxygenate water, which is then circulated through various filters to collect waste and convert the waste’s ammonia to nitrates. Any wastewater remaining is sent to a nearby lagoon and later used to irrigate fields near the facility.

In addition to the safe, local practices, hybrid striped bass and barramundi have received a “Best Choice” or Green Rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and a ringing endorsement for health from Dr. Oz.

“Free of mercury, but full of heart–and brain–healthy omega-3s, barramundi is a shoe-in for one of my top 5 superfoods. Bonus: the white meat is light, flaky and delicious,” says Oz.

Hy-Vee’s partnership with Iowa’s First is a great opportunity for us to support local business and community, all while offering a safe, traceable product for our customers. We are proud to offer fresh, quality seafood and will continue to look for ways to improve these efforts.

Clear Springs Rainbow Trout Sets the Industry Standard for Aquaculture

As FishWise helps Hy-Vee develop the strategies necessary to meet its commitment to customers to responsibly source its fresh and frozen Hy-Vee fish and seafood by the end of 2015, we’ve come across some incredible sustainability success stories.

One of the best comes from Clear Springs Trout Farm. I met them at the Seafood Expo North America, formerly known as the Boston Seafood Show. That vendor in particular is doing a great job, and they produce a ton of fish. It’s domestic and not imported, and is produced fairly close to Hy-Vee stores, so it has a low carbon footprint compared to some other species.

Visiting one-on-one with vendors and forming the relationships that are so important in advancing the Responsible Choice policy, I had the chance to learn a little more about an operation that is truly a model for aquaculture – and produces some delicious trout.

The trout are farmed in land-based raceways with a closed containment system that has earned a Green “Best Choice” rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. There’s also no evidence of large-scale escapes, indicating the raceway systems are effective in containing farmed fish from wild trout populations. Disease risk to wild populations isn’t a major concern – though a lack of data suggests that it should be studied more.

The flow-through raceway system uses continuously flowing pristine spring water. The waste is managed very well. The raceways are designed so waste settles at the bottom and is easy to clean out, so it doesn’t end up going into any nearby bodies of water. The risk of pollution is low.

The feed is Yellow Rated by Seafood Watch because some fish oil and fish meal from wild fisheries are used, but it’s a relatively low amount.

Clear Springs Rainbow Trout is a fish people can feel good about eating because it’s such a model for other aquaculture species. I would encourage people to try it; it’s more robust than some fish, but good for someone with an adventurous palate. It has a delicate texture and is a good substitute for less sustainable species like haddock or snapper.

For some ideas on how to prepare this tasty fish, click here for two delicious rainbow trout recipes.

Concerned About Where Your Food Comes From? So Are We. There’s No Need To Bypass Hy-Vee Select Private Label Tuna

Canned tuna has been part of Americans’ diets since the turn of the 20th century. But it didn’t really become a staple until years later when new fishing and dressing methods made it easier to catch a big, 40-pound tuna and remove excess oil that gave the fish a pungent odor that many people found objectionable.

After that, there was no curbing Americans’ appetite for tuna – until recently, that is.

From 1950 to 2000, tuna (mostly canned) was the most popular seafood in the United States. At the peak of its popularity, 85 percent of American households had at least one can of tuna in their cupboards. But last year, per capita consumption of tuna dropped to a 15-year low, according to USDA data and other studies cited recently by The Washington Post.

The article cites numerous reasons consumers are passing over canned tuna, most stemming from their growing awareness about how their food is raised and harvested. Consumer concerns range from overfishing to bycatch of other species, including the beloved dolphin.

At Hy-Vee, we share those concerns and have proactively addressed them with Hy-Vee Select Private Label Tuna, our overall commitment to sustainable seafood, and our Responsible Choice seafood initiative.

Our Select Private Label Tuna comes with a guarantee you won’t find with most major-label brands. Much of the canned tuna on the market today is caught using industrial scale purse seines and longlines, which result in high levels of bycatch of non-target species, such as dolphins, sharks, turtles and other marine life.

That was a big concern for Hy-Vee, so we looked to FishWise to help us develop two private-label canned tuna lines. Our new “Chunk Light” and “Solid or Chunk White” canned tunas are among the most progressive canned tuna offerings of any major retailer.

Our Chunk Light, which is pole and line-caught skipjack tuna, is especially impressive, given that the Monterey Bay Aquarium says it is the most sustainable option for any canned tuna.

The Solid or Chunk White is pole-and-troll caught albacore tuna (pole-and-troll are the two most selective albacore fishing methods), which results in very little bycatch.

The latter is also sourced from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries in the United States and New Zealand. We are quite proud to offer both of these sustainably sourced canned tuna products which are big steps forward in our efforts to responsibly source all our fresh and private label seafood by the end of 2015.

So, consumers can reach for a package of Hy-Vee Select Private Label Tuna with the confidence of knowing that we’re as concerned as they are about the health of the world’s oceans and the species that depend on them for survival.