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Something’s fishy about organic fish

Of course I have a hankering for fresh fish. I live in land-locked Colorado, and this week I’m at Expo East in Boston. So my colleagues and I went fishing last night for a restaurant to satisfy our craving. And what did we find? Something fishy. Here’s an excerpt from a conversation I had with my server. (I’m leaving out the restaurant name to protect the innocent.)

“So I’m curious: Is the ‘organic steelhead trout’ really ‘organic’?” I ask.

“If the menu says it is, it is,” the server says.

“Is it ‘certified organic’?”

Server stares at me blankly.

“I mean, what does ‘organic’ mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can you find out?”

Begrudgingly, he said he’d check with the chef.

I told my dining partners that I was certain he’d spit in my food. But, seriously, I wasn’t trying to play games. I honestly wanted to know the answer.

Server returns in less than a minute. “It’s certified organic in Idaho. And certified organic means the fish are fed a certain diet.”

And, thus, the meaning is like a clear, unpolluted sea.


The catch: Fish can’t legally be labeled as organic. Remember a couple years ago when there was a push for organic fish standards, and the USDA Organic Standards Board even went so far to approve a set of rules? Well, those have not been enacted. According to Soo Kim of the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the USDA Organic label, the “National Organic Program is still considering the recommendation by the Board concerning organic fish standards. As of now, the NOP hasn’t amended the rules concerning that area of organics.”

The lag in approval is not surprising, considering the proposed rules raised more questions than answers. For example, why can up to 25 percent of feed for organic fish be non-organic material, whereas all other animals certified as organic must eat 100 percent organic feed? And how do we handle “wild” fish, which can be a healthier option in my opinion but can’t be certified organic because no one can really control their environment?

So if you’re a retailer—or restaurateur—follow the rules and be prepared to answer customer questions--and serve them with a smile.

TAGS: Ingredients
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