Natural Foods Merchandiser

Coalition warns against diluting organic standards for aquaculture

p>In advance of a Nov. 27 symposium on organic aquaculture sponsored by the National Organic Standards Board, a coalition of more than 40 groups signed a letter urging the NOSB not to weaken current U.S. Department of Agriculture organic standards when considering regulations for aquaculture. The coalition, made up of conservation, organic, food safety and animal welfare organizations, objected that the draft recommendations would not meet basic USDA organic principles.

"We wanted to show that there is a united front out there, not just environmental groups, but organics groups and consumer advocates, who believe that certifying the current recommendations would go against everything the organic label stands for," said Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pure Salmon Campaign, based in Washington, D.C.

The Aquaculture Working Group, a task force named by the NOSB to create draft regulations for aquaculture, submitted its initial recommendations to the NOSB in January 2006. Following thousands of public comments, the group backed off its initial recommendations, which would have allowed open ocean net-pen fish and fish fed a diet of wild fish to be considered organic. After the Nov. 27 symposium, Kavanagh said, "The Aquaculture Working Group will go back, deliberate more and come back with a final recommendation."

The coalition letter described open net farming as "an inherently flawed farming practice, incompatible with organic principles." Among the issues are the possibility that farmed fish in ocean pens will escape and dilute the genetic stock of wild fish; that farmed fish will pass diseases to wild fish; that waste from open pens pollutes the ocean, especially in shallow waters; and that carnivorous fish such as salmon are inherently unsustainable, requiring more protein input in the form of fishmeal than they will produce.

The issue of feed for salmon and other carnivorous fish is a key sticking point. "USDA has already said that wild fish can't be certified organic," said Kavanagh. "Then how can fish that eat wild fish for feed be considered organic?"

The letter's signatories acknowledge that it's possible to raise herbivorous finfish, such as tilapia, organically, by using certified-organic feed and raising the fish in a closed system. "There's no way to do that with salmon because you can't control the inputs," Kavanagh said.

There is room, Kavanagh said, for other kinds of labels for aquaculture producers who follow environmentally responsible practices. "There are a number of groups working on the labeling issue, with a dialogue between NGOs, certifiers and industry," Kavanagh said.

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