Last November, Whole Foods Market, the world’s leading natural and organic food supermarket and creator of the Animal Compassion Foundation, set a June 15 deadline to assess whether procuring and selling live lobsters could be handled in a more humane way. Company leaders decided that if more
compassionate standards could not be implemented by this summer, Whole Foods would discontinue
sales.

“Our commitment to animal-compassionate standards means eliminating unnecessary and avoidable suffering when it is possible for us to do so,” said cofounder and CEO John Mackey at the time. “Given all the work we have done regarding animal welfare in our natural meat and animal-compassionate standards, we decided the sale of live lobsters within our stores and also their procurement conditions were appropriate to question.

“We are viewing the lobster as a live creature rather than a commodity that deserves no concern,” he continued. “Just because we sell lobsters and have customers who will buy them is not a compelling argument to maintain status quo.”

The company established an internal task force to investigate treatment standards for live lobsters and the supply chain process. Attention focused on how to significantly reduce the time from the lobster boat to the consumer’s shopping cart to avoid the long-term storage many lobsters endure after capture. The task force also looked into more humane shipping methods, as well as in-store tank conditions, aiming to mimic conditions of a lobster’s natural habitat.

Now that the June deadline has arrived, Whole Foods has made its decision: The company will stop selling live lobsters, effective immediately.

“Although we discovered significant improvements are possible from capture up to in-store tank conditions, we are not yet sufficiently satisfied that the process of selling live lobsters is in line with our commitment to humane treatment and quality of life for animals,” says Margaret Wittenberg, vice president of quality standards. “At this time, we believe it is too difficult to maintain consistent conditions throughout the entire supply chain to ensure the health and well-being of lobsters outside their natural environment for such a long period of time. Many lobsters are held in storage facilities for several months.”

For now, Whole Foods will sell only frozen raw and cooked lobster products from suppliers that meet specific quality standards for humane treatment, handling and processing.

“If, at some time in the future, we become convinced that sufficient improvements are possible in the handling of live lobsters to ensure humane treatment throughout the supply chain, we will consider resuming the sale of live lobsters at Whole Foods Market,” Wittenberg says.

“We place as much emphasis on the importance of humane treatment and quality of life for all animals as we do on the expectations for quality and flavor,” Mackey adds. “It is an integral component of our standards for every species we sell, and lobster cannot be any different. Part of our business is to continually learn and evolve, and while the door is open to new information, we are satisfied with our decision to stop selling live lobsters at this time.”