How does Wal-Mart reconcile selling live turtles in China with “sustainable” policy?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2007:


BENTONVILLE, Arkansas–In October 2005, Wal-Mart chief
executive officer Lee Scott declared that as the world’s largest
retail store chain, Wal-Mart has a special responsibility to be a
“good steward for the environment.” In October 2006, Newsweek
published a gruesome account of how live turtles, fish, crabs, and
clams are sold and killed to order “in the grocery section of a
Wal-Mart in north Beijing.”
In January 2007, Care for the Wild International chief
executive Barbara Maas suggested to Clifford Coonan, Beijing
correspondent for The Independent, that Wal-Mart and other retail
chains including Carrefour of France, Metro of Germany, and Tesco
of Britain should set better examples in China by not stocking
turtles and frogs.

“Tesco told us that it has commissioned research into the
stunning of turtles, with the Chinese Institute of Science and
Technology,” Maas said. “But our research has found dozens of
scientific publications that demonstrate that turtles cannot be
killed humanely for food.”
While Carrefour, Metro, and Tesco make little pretense of
being anything other than giant retailers, the Wal-Mart web
site–while saying nothing of humane values–continues to emphasize
“sustainable procurement,” including with a page about how “Wal-Mart
shoppers can now find the Marine Stewardship Council’s independent
blue eco-label on ten fish products.” Wal-Mart Seafood & Deli vice
president Peter Redmond calls the labeling “an easy way for consumers
to identify seafood from fisheries that meet the MSC’s strict
environmental standard.”
“How does Wal-Mart reconcile selling turtles (and frogs?) for
human consumption in your stores in China with your policy of
sustainability?”, ANIMAL PEOPLE asked, not just once but multiple
times in August and September 2007.
“Surely you are aware,” ANIMAL PEOPLE continued, “that both
turtles and frogs of all species are in global decline, due to a
combination of environmental factors and heavy human exploitation.
Surely you are also aware that turtle ‘farming’,” cited by Tesco as
their turtle source, “actually consists chiefly of raising turtles
to market weight in captivity after taking them from the wild, since
raising them to market weight from hatching would typically take from
five to 10 years (depending on species.)
“Surely you also know,” ANIMAL PEOPLE continued, “that the
overwhelming majority of herpetological conservationists believe that
the continuing existence of any legal trade in either turtles or
frogs will tend to keep eating them socially acceptable until many
species (especially those native to Asia) have declined past the
point of no return.”
Corporate flacks usually can give glib answers to questions
such as these, whether or not they square with reality or make
sense. But not Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart in repeated tries could not even
manage to dispatch a form letter that so much as mentioned the
company’s sustainability policy.
Networking with other veteran reporters, ANIMAL PEOPLE
learned that this seems to be routine.
Former corporate ladder-climber turned environmentalist and
adventurer Peter Bray had more to say in web postings about Wal-Mart
turtle-selling in China that Wal-Mart itself did. “To the point of
Wal-Mart’s decision to sell turtle meat,” Bray opined, “one has to
be concerned that legalizing these products and distributing them far
and wide will only increase consumer demand. In central China,
where turtle meat is not traditionally served, most consumers now
prod and poke and look curiously at the turtles, perhaps not sure
what to make of them. But, with Wal-Mart’s discounting and
marketing and sales, we’re sure to have plenty of new turtle eaters.
And that’s a bad thing for wild and highly endangered turtles.”
But ANIMAL PEOPLE did discover at the Wal-Mart web site a
declaration that among the company’s top three environmental goals is
to “Design and support Green Company Program in China.”
And CEO Lee Scott’s personal page offered one relevant
thought about, “What are the biggest challenges for Wal-Mart as far
as environmental sustainability is concerned?”
“We’ve got a very long way to go,” Scott said. “Our biggest
challenge is achieving our own potential.”

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