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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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