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Why did Whole Foods ban Krill Oil?

by Vin Kutty, MS on May 11, 2010

Whole Foods Market krill oil

Whole Foods Market kicks out Krill oil supplements.

The retailer said there were ‘sustainability issues’ with Krill oil products.

Whole Foods claims that krill, a tiny shrimp-like critter, is the main diet of whales and that harvesting krill would rob whales of their food.

Is Krill oil harming the environment?

Krill used to make krill oil are all caught in the frigid waters off the coast of Antarctica.  This is where many species of whales live and fatten up before breeding.

In a statement, the retailer said the following:

“Krill are an important source of food for marine animals including penguins, seals, and whales in the Antarctic.

Declines of some predator populations in the areas where the krill fishery operates suggest that fishery management needs to better understand how to evaluate the prey requirements of other marine species in order to set sustainable catch levels for krill.

Consequently, at present we are choosing to discontinue the sale of krill supplements as we continue to evaluate this emerging research. Please consider alternatives to krill oil supplements such as fish oil or astaxanthin supplements.”

So is Whole Foods right?

May be.

The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is often called a lawless place.   The old sailor’s adage, ‘Below 50 degrees [latitude] there is no law, below 60 degrees there is no hope, below 70 degrees there is no God,’ may still hold.

Krill harvesting is done somewhere between ‘hopeless’ and ‘Godless’ waters.

That does not mean there is no law governing krill harvests.

A multinational treaty-based organization called Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) monitors krill harvests.

CCAMLR?!  Any organization named CCAMLR, one assumes is mired in bureaucracy.  Besides, we’re not sure how to pronounce that.

Even so, CCAMLR is not toothless.  They put new krill harvesting rules in place last year to protect the whale population.   And they put a scientist on all the krill trawlers to play sheriff.

Whether these rules are really being followed is not clear from reviewing CCAMLR’s confusing website and publications.

Whole Foods krill oil ban may ultimately be just a media event because over 95% of all harvested krill are used to make something called ‘fish meal.’  Only about 2% krill goes into making krill oil supplements.

Fish meal is used to raise farmed salmon.  Fish, like us, need Omega-3 to grow. Ground up krill is sold to salmon farmers who feed it to their fish, which eventually end up on our plates.  Without krill, salmon fillet would look gray.  Would you buy a gray salmon fillet?  Didn’t think so.

If harvesting krill truly hurts whales, and we wish to stop hurting whales, we need to focus our attention on the fish meal industry.

And may be Whole Foods ought to stop selling farmed Atlantic salmon instead?

Aker BioMarine of Norway and Neptune of Canada (Full disclosure: I have met with both companies and I know their executives well) are the two main operators in the krill oil supplement industry.  They both have sustainability policies and claim to follow international rules.

Only a small portion of Aker and Neptune oils sell at Whole Foods.  Most of the krill oil supplements sold in the US are sold through Costco, Walmart and SAM’S Club, not Whole Foods Market.

My point is: the Whole Foods Krill ban will not solve an environmental issue, if there is one.

But it will raise awareness. After all, you’re reading this.

And it will reaffirm Whole Foods’ perception as a retailer that cares about the environment.


Whole Foods Krill oil Author: Vin Kutty About the Author: Vin Kutty is OmegaVia’s Scientific Advisor and Chief Blogger. He is a nutritionist, author and Omega-3 expert with over 20 years of experience. He blogs here, there and occasionally, everywhere. When inspired, he shares his professorial wisdom on Facebook and Twitter. Email him.


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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Barrett February 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Funny I was just in whole foods the other day and scoured the shelves for Krill and obviously didn’t find it along with the staff member had never heard of it… Till I read your article my perception right or wrong, was that Krill was actually a sustainable renewable resource along with being better for us or more effective than Fish Oil in general, due to its chemistry regardless of contamination issues to the point of pushing Fish Oil into the yesterday category….I thought hmm there’s a lot of money at stake there for those companies and big retailers in the potential migration to Krill.

Not about Krill, but another couple things with Whole Foods; I heard they quit selling Raw Milk in California where it is a legal retail item (apx 40 million gallons a year sold in CA), is it paranoia of liability or is it pressure from all their other non raw lines on the shelf ? I have to wonder. Christopher Eggs, heard of them? They are found at my regular grocery store with 600mg of Omega 3 PER EGG, but not found at whole foods nor any other eggs that can compete on that factor, I have to wonder why…. usually these days it seems to always boils down to politics and big money, sadly.

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Omegavia February 7, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Hi Barrett,

I have a feeling Whole Foods will eventually bring back Krill Oil. Probably with new data that proves that it is, indeed, sustainable. That research is currently being conducted and we won’t know the data for a few years. My educated guess is that krill is sustainable, not because there are billions of them, but because they are so low on the food chain. If a lot of krill is harvested, their food will remain uneaten. Critters low on the food chain can respond quickly and multiply to soak up that unused resource.

When it comes to sustainability, I worry more about Salmon and Cod. They are higher up the food chain. They take longer to rebound from over harvesting and sometimes, they never do.

As for regular fish oil made from sardines, anchovies and mackerel, the govt of Peru exercised (smartly!) their authority and shut down the last harvest season even though they were only a quarter of the way into the season. Why? Because there were too many juveniles being caught. Had they allowed the fishermen to catch all the juveniles, they want, the next year’s (decade’s?) fishery would have gone bust. This is good environmental control. Bad news is that fish oil prices are going thru the roof. We’ll see how the March-April 2011 catch looks. Prices will go back down if catches are, once again, normal.

Christopher eggs: it’s a fabulous thing! I wish I had it at my local store. You are lucky. I get pastured eggs from a local farm (Shepherd Farms) – it’s almost as good as Christopher Eggs. May be it is not at Whole Foods because the new product sell-in process at Whole Foods is really cumbersome down right stupid. Each area of the country has separate management and they need to be convinced to take in the product independently. Just silly.

Re: raw dairy – I can’t comment authoritatively on why Whole Foods does what it does. But raw dairy is a growing trend in California. A disturbing one if you ask me. Unpasteurized dairy can be dangerous. Think E. coli. But more importantly, milk is not ideal human food. A little bit of fermented dairy in the form of cheese and yogurt is fine. But raw milk is a dangerous food that’s not worth the risk. If you want animal protein, a better risk-benefit ratio can be found in pastured eggs, pastured butter and grass-fed beef.

Vin Kutty

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Carroll September 10, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Identified you weblog via aol I must say I m astounded along with your articles!

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Anne November 30, 2011 at 11:29 am

Krill is the most sustainable and abundant resource in the world. Krill are not in danger! The argument that we are stealing the whale’s food is irrelevant because the total weight of the world’s krill is almost twice the weight of the world’s population. The quota given for harvesting krill is not even close to being used up. Krill supplements has better health benefits compared to regular fish oil because krill’s omega 3 fatty acids come mainly through phospholipids form and because it contains the important antioxidant astaxanthin. The phospholipids form is a more recognizable form to the body and there for absorbs better and is more efficient utilized by the body. Thanks to the better absorption, it requires smaller dosage and doesn’t give you that bad after taste. Krill contains rich levels of the important antioxidant, astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is not found in fish oil supplements. Our bodies also use these antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, support our immune and cardiovascular systems. It also gives extra support to the omega 3 fatty acid, prolonging it’s shelf life. Some might worry about the possible contamination when it comes to fish. This is not a worry when it comes to krill because they are so low in the food supply chain that they do not have the same contamination issues. The highest quality krill comes from the cold and freshest water in the world, Antarctica. Not all omega3 products are created equally.

For more information, check out this link:
http://www.superbakrill.com/index.cfm

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Omegavia November 30, 2011 at 11:46 am

Hi Anne, agree on all points. Krill is certainly not in danger of over-consumption. In retrospect, Whole Foods Market was wrong. Sustainability of krill oil is not an issue. Cost is. And adulteration and misbranding is an increasingly disturbing problem, now that krill oil is so popular. There are several product on the market that contains small amount of krill processing effluents with hardly any phospholipids or astaxathin. However, branded oils like Superba are the only ones that can be reliably expected to produce results. Thanks for your comment.

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Gene May 10, 2013 at 7:50 pm

It is absolutely ridiculous that Whole Foods would ban Krill Oil under some bogus assumption yet is happy to sell us GMO foods.

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Vin Kutty May 11, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Indeed.

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handa fanda January 12, 2012 at 6:35 pm

that great thing to understand i might just keep taking fish oil

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Francisco Corazon January 22, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Scientific studies have shown that the harvesting of krill oil IS
SUSTAINABLE. It’s unfortunate that Whole Foods had such an
alarmist approach to any questions they might have had about the use of
krill. The health benefits of using krill are far greater
than using fish oil.
I am in agreement with the author regarding the removal of farm
raised salmon from Whole Foods stores. This is because farm raised
salmon are fed dyes, massive doses of hormones and in
some cases chicken manure.

It appears that Whole Foods is more interested in $$$ than human health.

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Omegavia January 23, 2012 at 10:51 am

Hi Francisco – yes, krill oil certainly appears to be a sustainable source of Omega-3. Indeed, on a gram-per-gram Omega-3 basis, krill oil is superior. But the issue remains that a gram of krill oil Omega-3 costs about $2 to $3 while a gram of fish oil Omega-3 can be had for almost 10% of the cost. To keep costs low, companies are marketing krill oil pills with low, ineffective dosages (as low as 90 mg Omega-3 per pill!) People will barely notice any benefits at those dosage levels. This, in my opinion, is the key factor that’s holding back greater adoption of krill oil. Still, Whole Foods’ decision was/is misguided. They are, after all, a for-profit publicly traded corporation and naturally interested in profit. Since their ban, the krill oil market has exploded and they have missed out on lots of profit and sent their customers elsewhere in search of krill oil. They will probably slowly introduce krill oil without much fanfare. It will probably say ‘Eco-friendly Krill’ to save face.

Vin

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Jeannette August 17, 2012 at 7:47 am

The WholeFoods claim makes no sense. If they claim to care about the whales and sustainability WholeFoods should shut their markets down now around the US and especially in the Seattle area. If you walk through WholeFoods you’ll notice their selling a lot of wild salmon and it seems they have no problem taking all the food away from the Orca’s and other wild-life. Here’s an example of the Seattle area. Markets are full of wild salmon and oceans are over-fished that the whale population dropped dramatically. This is what I learned on a whale tours in the Seattle area where a guide explained that the pods of Orca’s are struggling hard because of over-fishing and people taking their salmon away. After hearing this news I went to WholeFoods and notices their huge supply of wild caught salmon, fresh and frozen. And I guarantee you what is not sold WHoleFoods dumps it in the waste while the Orca’s are starving. Krill oil is just another great supplement but we don’t need it daily. There’s plenty of great Omega 3 sources for example skip a day of fish oil and make chia-seed pudding and poor delicious sachi inchi oil over your salad or olive oil. Add some hemp seeds to your salad and take some vegan algea oil and palm oil that is now available to us in many health food stores. Just give your body a nice variety of different Omega 3 oils. It’s good for you and the environment! Jeannette

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Omegavia August 17, 2012 at 10:45 am

Hi Jeannette – you’re right, the Whole Foods policy makes no sense. They probably regret it for reasons financial, not necessarily environmental. I like your suggestion of getting your Omega-3 from a variety of sources, but it’s tough to get enough EPA and DHA from vegetable sources alone.
- Vin Kutty

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Baird Fulghum August 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I was looking into the VitalChoice brand VitalRed Wild Antarctic Krill Oil. The website notes that phospholipids in krill make it a better choice. However the caps do not deliver the 600 mg of suggested omega 3. The response from their staff is that the phospholipid based kril compensate for the lower dose.
Any thoughts?
Many thanks !
BF

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Omegavia August 26, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Hi Baird – krill oil is better than fish oil. No doubt. But not so much better that you can afford to take tiny amounts of Omega-3, despite the phospholipids. The phospholipids makes the Omega-3 in krill about 1.6X better than fish oil Omega-3. More here: http://www.omegavia.com/is-krill-oil-48x-better-than-fish-oil/ There are wild claims about krill oil that I find difficult to scientifically substantiate. Hope this helps.
- Vin Kutty

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Baird Fulghum August 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Vin,
Very helpful.
Thank you !
BF

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Douglas Brown September 22, 2012 at 12:56 pm

If they did their homework properly, they would see that this isn’t true. There are plenty of krill available, without harming the enveronment. If you go to mercola.com, Dr. Mercola has an article in his archives proving that there are plenty of krill available. That’s like saying that a network marketing company will become saturated with distributors. If that is true, why has amway been around for years and years and they are not saturated. I am not involved with amway, never have and I don’t like amway. I am using them as a valid point. market saturation and Krill depletion is a false perception.

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Vin Kutty September 30, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Hi Douglas – Whole Foods’ decision is political, not environmental. They were ‘playing their base.’ This is very clear in retrospect. At current harvest rates, krill appears to be sustainable. But harvest rates are increasing and the Chinese are getting into the harvesting. So we can’t say with absolute certainty that krill is indefinitely sustainable. It is a dynamic thing.
– Vin Kutty

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cheryl October 3, 2012 at 12:20 am

It is obvious that your opinion is biased since you sell omegavia, which is a very overpriced fish oil suppliment in my opinion. Hopefully anyone with a brain can see that. In my opinion you do not need to bash another product so you can sell more of your high priced mackeral. Just sell it and shut up about other products….That would make you appear more reputable.

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Vin Kutty October 3, 2012 at 12:48 am

Hi Cheryl – you’re absolutely right about me being biased. I’ve written about a hundred blogs about Omega-3 and fish oil for this website. If you read them all (not that I expect anyone to), I think you’d see exactly what my biases are. With 100,000 regular readers, I am not surprised to find there are those who feel the way you do.
- Vin Kutty

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Pete February 14, 2013 at 9:56 am

It never fails, people are devastating to just about anything they put their hands on. I honestly do not know who to believe but what I do know Is that with the billions of people and the massive fishing that goes on how long can anything living In the ocean last? If It’s not the whales It’s their food being harvested.Marine life doesn’t stand a chance and sooner or soonest the only thing left will be worms. Even they may get targeted for some reason. I dislike humanity. Because I’m human doesn’t mean I like humanity. It would be nice to have some hope but looking back kind of melts hope away and forget the future. Maybe we will be happy when we have nothing to be happy about. Nothing left, just one big nothing.

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Greg Shea March 1, 2014 at 7:26 pm

As per usual, this website is obviously being followed by “industry shills” willing to put forth a flurry of information to dissuade the dissenters.

The fact is that krill supply is NOT in danger for whales. It is being consumed greatly by the whales, especially in Antarctica. So, who is suffering and, in reality, facing extinction by another agency removing and profiting from krill?

It is the penguins!

This is all very well documented in the film: “The Antarctica Challenge”.

http://www.theantarcticachallenge.com

Global warming is real and has the potential to seriously raise sea levels worldwide. But there in the Antarctic, the warming seas have brought in the whale to feed on the krill, an essential and life-giving food for the penguins.

But then, who cares, as long as corporations make a profit and we supposedly improve our health. Such selfishness and dominion fostering!

It is very sad to realize that Nature could do very well without us. Yet, we seek to subdue and destroy for out personal benefit. This is not the way of the God of the Bible. We need to be stewards of the Creation!

During the Olympics we were inundated here in Canada with ads by the Jamieson company for krill supplements.

Please do not buy krill! You can be very healthy without it.

The penguins thank you!

Greg Shea (Lake Cowichan)

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PJ April 14, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Yeah, the “ban” at my beloved Whole Foods here in Scottsdale is still enforce. It’s so silly. This thread has given me some GREAT info on the why’s and wherefore’s of their thinking (or lack thereof!).

When they come back with “eco friendly” krill oil, I wonder whose it will be? You mentioned that Superba is very good, Vin, so I bet it will be Barlean’s….

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Vin Kutty April 14, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Hi PJ – Whole Foods will never publicly admit that they made a half-baked, emotional decision based on insufficient facts. I’m sure their bean-counters are regretting the decision. Caring about the environment and sustainability is to be commended, but in my opinion, what Whole Foods did was project the appearance of caring without knowing the facts. At current harvest rates, krill appears to be sustainable. If everyone and their uncle begins taking krill oil supplements, then Whole Foods may turn out to be right after all.

I have absolutely no clue which brand WF will bring in if they change their mind.

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Maria May 14, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Okay, I take Krill oil for the Omegas. But, I will stop taking it after I finish the bottle I am on.
It starts with me. I will not be a party to robbing whales of their main diet, while I have options of taking other supplements I can get Omegas from, the whales don’t have options.

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