Whole Foods Market appears to have caught itself in the pincers of its own political correctness. What may have started off as an effort to respond to the demands of animal-rights activists and natural foods consumers concerned about suffering lobsters has ended up with Maine’s lobster producers being squeezed out of a national grocery store chain in favor of a Canadian operation with deeper pockets. What Clearwater Seafoods brought to the table (as an operation of its size might be expected to) was the ability to meet an expensive standard while providing a steady stream of lobsters to customers anywhere.

Economics aside, what’s troubling is the one-size-fits-all aspect: it meets Whole Foods’ need for products that can be certified as “green” while it turns a blind eye to other massive inconsistencies. A great many of the lobsters headed for Clearwater’s Canadian plants are caught offshore in traps fished in huge strings, in areas unregulated by the strict conservation rules that govern the lobster fishery in Maine’s inshore waters. The offshore fishery is one in which egg-bearing females need not be notched and thrown back; in which there’s no “double gauge” as there is in Maine to protect large broodstock lobsters.

While Whole Foods’ decision to get rid of its live lobster tanks doesn’t necessarily put the company on the side of those who argue that boiling lobsters is cruel, it certainly skirts the obvious question here: if we’re so concerned about pain, how are we to regard Clearwater’s cooking-and-freezing operation on the other side of the border? Frozen lobsters are apparently acceptable in Whole Foods’ stores; live ones aren’t. But then, who says the global marketplace has to reward consistency?