Proposed Rules for Organic Fish Run Fast and Loose With USDA Standards

Q. I?m having trouble finding organic fish even at natural food markets. Why?

A. That’s because, technically, there is no such thing as certified organic fish in the U.S. (despite some seafood products labeled as organic). That may change. Organic Seafood Soon a Reality? The National Organic Standards Board, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which sets standards for all organic foods, proposed organic standards for farmed fish this past November. What about wild? Logic dictates that anything wild is naturally organic. Ironically, however, wild fish will never be labeled organic, because there’s no control over what they eat and what’s in their environment, making it impossible to ensure adherance to any organic standards.

Environmentalists and consumer advocates criticize the proposed standards, because they are weaker than existing standards for other foods. Moreover, they don’t encourage seafood sustainability.

Why New Standards Fall Short. The Center for Food Safety (CFS), a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group, opposes labeling farmed fish as organic, because fishmeal and fish oil from nonorganic sources can make up as much as 25% of “organic” feed under the new standards. According to consumer groups, this is a concession to aquaculture business concerns, which argue that 100% organic feed is too expensive to develop. The CFS also opposes any labeling of imported seafood as organic, because without organic criteria, such labels are misleading. The proposed standards also allow farmed fish to be raised in open-net pens in large bodies of water. According to Food & Water Watch, another D.C.-based consumer group, this threatens the sustainability of wild fish populations and the marine environment itself by allowing possible interbreeding as well as releasing waste into the water. Only inland “contained” aquaculture systems eliminate this problem.

EN‘s Bottom Line. The proposed organic standards must undergo review before they receive final approval, which could take as long as three years. Until then, be leery of any organic claim you see on seafood. If you want stricter regulations, express your concerns to your congressional representatives.

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