This could provide closure to a long-standing battle between advocates and critics who have struggled over whether or not fish raised in open-net pens ought to be considered organic.
Wally Stevens, executive director of the Global Aquaculture Alliance summed up the dilemma the USDA is facing, “The challenge is to figure out how we can produce a healthy protein product with a proper regard to where the feed comes from.”
Among the chief concerns from critics is the allowance of up to 25% non-organic feed allowed under the new provisions. Currently, other USDA certified organic animal products must have been raised on 100% organic feed. Urvashi Rangan, senior scientist and policy analyst at Consumers Union, commented on the potential standards, “If enacted, this gutting of the organic standards will not only allow subpar organic fish to be sold with a premium but will undermine consumer confidence in the entire organic marketplace.”
Patty Lovera, assistant director of the Food & Water Watch advocacy group echoed Rangan’s sentiments, “What we think is at stake is not just the integrity of a standard for fish but the whole organic standard and consumer confidence in it. A huge part of the growth in organic is driven by people looking for food that comes with assurance. When you start bending the rules, that's a big risk.”
Still, there is consumer demand for organic fish. U.S. consumers purchased $6 million worth of internationally labeled organic fish in 2007. The organic meat, fish & poultry category grew 38% in 2007 and another 32% growth is expected for 2008, according to NBJ estimates.
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