New Poll Reveals That Proposed 'Organic' Standards for Fish Will Fail to Meet Consumer Expectations

For Immediate Release

Consumers Union
Contact: 

Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch, 202-744-0525
Shauna MacKinnon, Living Oceans Society, 604-307-8091
Urvashi Rangan, Consumers Union, 646-594-0212
George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety, 571-527-8618

New Poll Reveals That Proposed 'Organic' Standards for Fish Will Fail to Meet Consumer Expectations

National Organic Standards Board Meeting November 17 – 19 to Decide on Final Recommendation That Does Not Meet Fundamental USDA Organic Principles

WASHINGTON - The USDA's National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is poised to dilute the meaning of the trusted organic label when it meets next week to decide what the label should mean for fish. The NOSB will vote on their recommendations for "organic" fish production that would allow fish to carry the USDA organic label-despite being raised under conditions that fail to meet fundamental USDA organic principles. The NOSB recommendations allow:

• Fish to be fed food other than 100% organic feed-the gold standard that must be met by other USDA-certified organic livestock;
• Fishmeal used to feed farmed fish from wild fish-which has the potential to carry mercury and PCBs; and
• Open net cages to be used-which flush pollution, disease and parasites from open net fish farms directly into the ocean, adversely impacting wild fish supply, sustainability and the health of the oceans.

Just this week, a Consumers Union Poll revealed:

• An overwhelming majority of Americans-93 percent-agree that fish labeled as "organic" should be produced by 100 percent organic feed, like all other organic animals.
• Nine in 10 consumers also agreed that "organic" fish farms should be required to recover waste and not pollute the environment and 57 percent are in fact concerned about ocean pollution caused by "organic" fish farms.
• More than 4 in 10 polled are concerned about the health problems associated with eating wild fish.

A copy of the poll can be found here: www.GreenerChoices.org/foodpoll2008.

"It's a disservice to the organic program and to consumers that the NOSB is ready to undermine the organic marketplace which relies on a higher bar for environmental health practices being met," said Urvashi Rangan, PhD, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst at Consumers Union. "Fish labeled as ‘organic' that are not fed 100 percent organic feed, come from polluting open net cage systems, or that are contaminated with mercury or PCBs any measurable level, fall significantly short of consumer expectations."

The NOSB recommendation is full of holes that will not protect "organic" fish from contamination or ensure that open fish farms in the ocean will not pollute and adversely impact the surrounding environment. In the NOSB attempt to deal with the complex impacts of wild fish in feed and net pens, the proposed standards are couched such as requiring wild fish to come from "sustainable" fisheries-but there is no standard for "sustainable" fisheries. They also claim that the pesticide residue testing program for organic produce would cover contaminant testing in wild fish. However, farms are only subject to pesticide testing once every five years, which is not adequate to control contamination rates in fish feed. The NOSB reliance on conventional fishmeal production systems to self-regulate and separate "sustainable" vs. wild inputs is unproven and will be extremely difficult if not unfeasible in practice.

Collectively, Consumers Union, the Center for Food Safety and Food & Water Watch gathered nearly 30,000 signatures in favor of maintaining strong standards for the organic label for fish. "Consumer trust in the integrity of the organic label is at stake," said Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch. "But unfortunately, the NOSB wants to allow the farmed salmon industry to cash in on the organic label without meeting the basic tenets of organic production."

"In an effort to shoehorn every type of industrial fish farming into the organic label, the proposed recommendations create a dangerous loophole to get around the 100% organic feed standard by arbitrarily and capriciously defining wild forage fish feed as a ‘supplement,' " said George Kimbrell, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety. "Allowing such farmed fish to be labeled organic violates the spirit and letter of the law, is detrimental to the oceans and misleading to the public."

Last year, a broad coalition of concerned advocates from 44 organizations-which collectively represent more than one million stakeholders and concerned citizens-voiced urgent concern that the NOSB not weaken USDA Organic Standards. The co-signing organizations concluded that while the farming of herbivorous finfish may be conducted within organic regulations, farming carnivorous finfish (including salmon) in open net cage systems is an inherently flawed farming practice, incompatible with organic principles.

An inventory of international data reveals that open net salmon farms, whether labeled as "organic" or not, may inevitably allow escapes and the spread of sea lice and infectious diseases. "Allowing net pens to be certified as "organic" weakens the incentive for producers to use innovative technologies like closed containment," said Shauna MacKinnon of Living Oceans Society, a member of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform. "The industry needs technology that controls impacts, not standards that endorse the status quo."

NOSB should reject this recommendation and draw the line so only fish that eat 100% organic feed and are produced in closed, controlled production systems where waste is not flushed into the environment, should be eligible to be certified as organic. If that line cannot or is not drawn, the NOSB should recommend that all fish and seafood cannot meet the current organic standards bar and therefore is not appropriate for organic production.

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