Friday, March 7, 2008

Brian Responds to Your Comments About Tuna

Brian Rohter here. I wanted to respond to some of the comments made about my original blog posting.

First, in regards to the idea that the tuna that we had sampled was actually foreign fish that was labeled as Oregon caught; I’ve personally spoken to Laura Anderson, from Local Ocean Seafoods, who supplied us with this albacore tuna. Laura was able to take the lot number that was on this shipment of tuna and trace it back to the vessel that originally caught the fish. The paperwork associated with the shipment states that the tuna was caught inside the 200 mile limit off the coast of Oregon. Laura also contacted the captain of the vessel, who had a clear recollection of the trip. He also confirmed that the tuna associated with this lot number was West Coast Troll Caught Albacore that was landed in Oregon. We did consider the possibility that somehow there was a mix up at the processing plant and some foreign tuna was put in the wrong box. The owner of the plant told us that, because of the systems they have in place in their facility, this type of mix up is virtually impossible.

Second, in regards to the color of the tuna that was shown on the KOIN piece; you are correct. We had no tuna in our stores on the day that KOIN did their story, so that photo must have been a stock picture of some other tuna.

Third, in regards to the suggestion that we post information about the danger of mercury on our seafood cases; we have been doing that for many years. In this instance, because the test results for all the tuna varieties we sampled came in so high we felt that our obligation to our customer’s health demanded that we take further action.

Fourth, the suggestion that we somehow sought publicity about this issue simply isn’t correct. We read the New York Times story about their testing of tuna in sushi restaurants in New York and we thought the results were alarming. We decided to test our tuna to make sure that we were offering safe food to our customers. As I explained in my first post, we ran two series of tests, partially because we were so surprised at the local albacore results. When the second test came back matching the first, we decided to err on the side of caution and pull the tuna while we investigated further. We put up signs on our seafood cases explaining what had happen. We did not press release our decision or contact any media organizations. Shortly after we did our testing, we were contacted by the Oregonian. We’re not sure what prompted them to do the story, but think maybe they became interested after reading the New York Times sushi story, just like us. The Oregonian asked if we had tested our tuna. We gave them an honest answer, which was yes. They asked if we would share the results with them, and we figured that being completely transparent about the whole situation was the right thing to do and in everyone’s interest, so we gave them what we had. Then KOIN contacted us, probably as a result of the Oregonian story, and we shared our information with them. We didn’t seek out any of this press coverage.

I think New Seasons Market’s support of the local fishing community is second to none. We buy local whenever we can, in some instances even contracting with specific vessels to make sure they have a market for their catch at sustainable prices. The last thing we would want to do would be to hurt our local fishing families and communities.

So, now here’s what’s happening: we’ve taken two samples from that original lot and sent them to two different labs for testing. We’ve also taken two samples from another lot of albacore supplied by Local Ocean Seafoods and sent one of each of those samples to two different labs. We expect the results early next week and we’ll post them as soon as we have them.

Finally, I want to make sure that we’re not losing sight of the big picture here. The health of our children and of future generations is directly linked to the health of our oceans. In addition, the livelihoods of our local fishermen are directly linked the health of our oceans. We hope that all this dialogue will help encourage more people to get serious about taking care of our oceans, our food system and our planet.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Trouble With Tuna;
Balancing Food Safety While Supporting Local Fishers

By Brian Rohter

Kudos to the Oregonian Food Day and reporter Leslie Cole for the great story in this mornings paper about the complexities involved in trying to eat healthy and sustainably fished or farmed seafood. We definitely agree with Leslie's bottom line, which is "Taking action is easier than you think. We've ... identified a handful of fish you can bring home without guilt or questions. They're healthful, environmentally sound choices . . . ". Here's the link to the whole story: "A good catch".

There are a couple of other pieces of information that I'd like to share. Leslie points out in the article that we recently had some of our fish tested for mercury content at a local independent laboratory. We did do a round of several tests. The results from the first test really shocked us because, although we were prepared to see elevated mercury counts on the tuna, we didn't expect the levels to be as high as they were. We were also really taken aback at the results for the salmon that we tested since we hadn't heard anything at all about mercury problems in wild Alaskan salmon. Read the Feb. 4 results here.

Based on the uncertainty of the results on the first round of testing, we contracted for a second sample. The tuna came back with essentially the same results and the salmon came back at the levels that we expected. We've been told there was an error in the first salmon sampling process. Read the Feb. 18 results here.

We thought long and hard about what action we should take after the high levels of mercury in the tuna were confirmed. Obviously we want to offer all of our customers as many choices as possible and we certainly are committed to promoting Oregon products, like the local albacore. In the end we decided to be cautious and stop selling those varieties for the time being. We will continue to test on a intermittent basis and if something changes we'll be excited to bring them back. I'm interested to know if you think we made the right decision here or whether we should just share the information and let everyone choose for themselves.

We also figured it would be a good idea to take a look at the mercury levels in the canned tuna that we sell and we were pleasantly surprised to see that all of it came back at levels that are deemed acceptable. Read the Feb. 28 results.

Finally, for folks who have a high degree of interest in making sustainable seafood purchases, I want to remind you of our Sustainable Seafood Program, which we launched in 2003. We use a simple green, yellow and red color coding system in our Seafood Departments to help highlight smarter choices for healthier oceans. You can learn more about it here or by picking up the informational brochures in each of our stores.