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"Happy" Maine Lobster

Hannah Pingree on the Record

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Maine Lobsters & Whole Foods
By Rep. Leila Percy, Rep. Hannah Pingree, Sen. Dennis Damon

Whole Foods Markets, Inc. received a lot of attention recently when it announced that it would no longer sell live lobsters in its 180 stores, including a new one planned for Portland. Since lobstering is a $300 million business in Maine, should lobstermen— and those of us who love lobsters— be concerned?

Well, yes and no. While it's doubtful that the decision by Whole Foods will have a significant impact on the sales of live Maine lobsters (only a fraction of its stores currently sell live lobsters and anyone wanting a live lobster can certainly find other outlets), we should be concerned with we believe is flawed reasoning behind Whole Foods' decision.

Whole Foods said it made its decision because it is '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.' We would argue that Maine lobsters are very well treated throughout the supply chain. Why? Because it's in the best interest of lobstermen to deliver their catch healthy and alive to their markets in order to fetch the best price. The careful harvesting and handling of Maine lobsters is the sole reason why the resource is among the most sustainable of all harvested sea creatures in Maine waters. Maine's lobster resource is healthy and plentiful. Maine lobstermen practice sustainable harvesting by tossing back small, young lobsters and females.

That's why Maine's catch has more than doubled in the last 15 years, from 28 million pounds in 1990 to 64 million pounds in 2005. And the only dealers in Maine that store lobsters for any length of time do so in natural pounds, not metal tanks.

And, not to state the obvious, but the lobsters Whole Foods was selling are ALIVE. If you could ask the lobsters in the store's tank who has the better quality of life, them or the butchered meat and salmon filets in the Whole Foods display case, we'll bet a lobster dinner that we know the answer. Seriously though, ascribing human feelings and emotions to creatures that scientists say have the central nervous system of an insect is pointless. The real issue is whether the decision by Whole Foods really involves the ethical treatment of animals or something else. After all, Whole Foods says it will continue to sell frozen and raw processed lobster meat. That's a good thing, but it doesn't make much sense. Apparently, live lobsters make the company executives squeamish, but dead, frozen, processed, vacuum-sealed lobster meat is just fine.

How is this compatible with the company's stated interest in selling the most natural food available and bringing consumers closer to food producers? Can you find anything more 'natural' in a natural food store than a live Maine lobster? Whole Foods should at least be consistent in its philosophy— and honest with its customers.

In fact, doesn't this decision by Whole Foods have more to do with sales (and throwing a bone to animal rights groups) than it does with any valid concern for the care of live lobsters? After all, when the Safeway chain made its decision to stop selling live lobsters, it did so for one reason: they weren't selling. It's a fact of life that most consumers today want quick, easy-to-prepare convenience food. Pulling a frisky, flapping live lobster from a dripping paper bag and submerging it in boiling water, then shelling it and cleaning up afterwards is anything but convenient. It's a ritual that us Mainers will never abandon, but it's one that more and more people experience only at special occasions, if at all.

But that doesn't mean people don't want the delicious taste of Maine lobsters. Most of Maine's catch is sold to restaurants or to processors. The finest restaurants in the world— including the restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower— proudly list Maine lobster on their menus. It's doubtful that the decision by Whole Foods will make a dent in this worldwide demand. We invite Whole Foods executives to come to Maine and meet with lobstermen and dealers to see this for themselves. We'll even treat them to a fresh Maine lobster dinner— guilt-free.

For further information, contact:
Rep. Hannah Pingree, 691-5071
Amy Watson, Legislative Aide, 287-1430
Kaylene Waindle, Communication Director, 287-1433

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Hannah Pingree OnlineHannah Pingree is the House Representative of Maine District 36 covering Brooklin, Deer Isle, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, part of Mount Desert, North Haven, Stonington, Swans Island and Tremont and Vinalhaven. Paid for by the Committee to Re-Elect Hannah Pingree, Foy W. Brown, Treasurer. Logo by Amy Fischer Designs of Camden, Maine.