Groups Criticize USDA Board Recommendation to Label Fish Farmed in Open Waters “Organic”

For Immediate Release

Food and Water Watch
Contact: 

Patty Lovera, Marianne Cufone or Erin Greenfield (202) 683-2500

Groups Criticize USDA Board Recommendation to Label Fish Farmed in Open Waters “Organic”

Food & Water Watch and Others Oppose National Organic Standards Board Decision to Undermine Organic Principles

WASHINGTON - Today the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommended that fish
from open water aquaculture be certified as organic, setting a
precedent that would lower the bar on organic standards, according to
the national consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch.
Despite immense opposition from leading organizations within the
organic, ocean conservation, consumer and food safety communities,
NOSB's decision would undermine two basic organic principles -
promoting biodiversity and minimizing environmental impact - by
allowing open net pens and wild fish feed in the production of
"organic" fish.

"The principles and practices behind open
water aquaculture are simply incompatible with organic standards," said
Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. "Allowing the
‘USDA Organic' label on a product that does not meet standards for all
other organic foods is misleading to consumers and threatens the future
of organics."

One major concern cited by consumer groups is a
loophole created by NOSB to allow 25 percent of fish feed to be
composed of wild fish - a recommendation that conflicts with the
current organic mandate that all livestock feed be 100 percent organic.
The board skirted around the issue by defining this feed as a
"supplement" rather than a feed source, a risky decision that could
lead to other forms of organic production following suit.

The
farming of carnivorous finfish - like salmon, cobia, Atlantic cod and
halibut - in open net pens could also threaten wild fish populations
and the marine environment.

"These ocean fish farms use massive
amounts of fishmeal made from depleted wild fish stocks, dump waste
directly into the ocean - excess food, fish waste and more - can
produce fish with higher levels of toxins, and release behaviorally or
genetically different fish that might interbreed with or overtake wild
fish," said Marianne Cufone, fish program director of Food & Water
Watch.  "These significant environmental and human health concerns do
not mesh with the organic label."

One lone member of the NOSB,
Bea James, agreed that the Board's recommendation is not in keeping
with the core meaning of organic. "The best we can do is not an organic
standard," James said. She was also the only no vote on approving this
proposal.

After the Board gives its recommendations to USDA, the
department will write the regulatory protocol for certifying
aquaculture; however, there is no timeline for this process. Food &
Water Watch will urge USDA not to move forward on this recommendation.

"Organic
principles should not be compromised under any circumstances,"
concluded Hauter. "We need USDA to provide consumers with a clear and
consistent understanding of how their food is produced. The only fish
that should be labeled ‘organic' should come from practices that
protect marine life, and create safe and sustainable seafood for
American consumers."

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Food & Water Watch is a national consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. Visit www.foodandwaterwatch.org.

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