Aquaculture for all

Common Standards For EU Organic Aquaculture

Marketing Economics

The Regulation on organic aquaculture animal (fish, molluscs, crustaceans) and seaweed production entered into force on 1 July 2010. Certification in the Member States used to be based on private standards or national specifications, but the new Regulation imposes minimum criteria to be used in all countries of the European Union.

Regulation (710/2009 (1)) on organic aquaculture animal and seaweed production has been in force since July in all Member States of the European Union (EU). The existence of a common standard based on minimum criteria will help to improve the identification of organic aquaculture animals. The new EU logo for organic products, the ‘Euro-leaf’ (see photo above and box), must be affixed to pre-packaged organic aquaculture products produced in the EU. Member States used to be able to draw up their own specifications through national regulations or rely on private standards.

Private operators are predominant in the EU: there are 10 in all, but only a handful, like Naturland, are present in more than one Member State. Only two countries – Denmark since 2004 and France since 2007 – have national laws on organic aquaculture. Ireland drafted legislation in 2007 but left it dormant pending adoption of the European text. This lack of uniformity makes procedures complex and exports costly since it multiplies the number of audits. With the new Regulation, it will now be possible to market pre-packaged organic aquaculture products under a single logo throughout the EU internal market.

This innovative Regulation covers all types of fresh water and marine animal production: fish, obviously, but also crustaceans, molluscs and even seaweed. ‘No earlier text permitted the labelling of organic seaweed’, notes Jean-François Arbona, of C-Weed Aquaculture, a firm specialised in the production of sea plants. ‘This regulation also makes possible the existence of aquaculture (shellfish, crustaceans, etc.) under an organic label that encourages producers by adding value to good environmental practice.’

Reducing farming density

The new production standards ensure the welfare of farmed fish. The densities imposed by the European text are in line with those generally set by existing organic certification standards and are much stricter than those for conventional production. For salmon, for example, Europe’s largest organic aquaculture production, the density of an organic farm cannot exceed 10 kg/m3 in sea water, compared with 70 kg/m3 with conventional production.

Dr Giuseppe Lembo (COISPA Tecnologia & Ricerca) is an expert in fish welfare in aquaculture. In his view, the maximum stocking densities authorised in the European Union represent a balanced compromise between welfare, high quality and profitability. ‘Today there is a growing interest in the welfare of farmed fish’, he explains. ‘And more and more fish farmers are becoming aware that, over and above a question of ethics, the success of their production is at stake. The concept of minimum space for fish is more complex than for terrestrial animals and there are many inter-species differences as regards the need for space and stocking density tolerance.’

For Ireland, one of the EU’s largest producers, this standard will not lead to any changes, however. ‘Ireland was a pioneer, launching organic aquaculture at the beginning of the 90s’, notes Richie Flynn of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA). ‘So criteria for low density, the procurement of fish from sustainable fisheries and the location of fish farms are already being met. Some of our criteria are even stricter than those set by the Regulation.’

The same low density requirement is laid down in the Regulation for production of sea bream and sea bass. Density is restricted to a maximum of 15 kg of fish per m3. For the Greek company Kefalonia Fisheries, founded in 1981 as the first organic fish farm for sea bass and sea bream, the new text will not lead to any major changes. ‘Our organic aquaculture production is certified by Naturland, which imposes certain additional criteria that go beyond the European legislation’, explains Sales Manager Efi Moustaka.

Stricter framework for farming techniques

To guarantee that organic fish farms remain as close to nature as possible, the Regulation prohibits the use of hormones. This ban has a major impact on certain farms, which previously used hormonal induction for fish reproduction. This is the case for carp produced mainly in Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland. The ban will also affect the production of sturgeon in Spain and France as well as tilapia, a fish found in a number of organic fish farms in the Netherlands. Here too, however, fish farm operators have three years to develop a reproduction process that meets the new criteria (2).

Following the Regulation’s entry into force, the triploidisation of organic aquaculture animals, a process that sterilizes females, no longer corresponds to the objectives and principles of organic production set out in EU rules. ‘Triploidisation was authorised until recently in France and used widely in organic farms that produce large trout for smoking’, explains Marine Levadoux, technical officer for the Interbranch Technical Committee on Aquaculture Products (Comité interprofessionnel des produits de l’aquaculture – CIPA). From now on, large organic smoked trout will have to come from sea-based farms, which do not exist in France at present. However, it may be possible to use a selection process to skirt round this difficulty.

For bivalve molluscs (oysters, mussels, etc.), the on-growing areas authorised are strictly supervised. The same holds true for seaweed harvesting areas. ‘Transposition of the Regulation has made this point even more restrictive, with the result that now only 20 per cent of Brittany’s coasts are eligible’, observes Jean-François Arbona.

Preserving adaptation periods

It is important to note that the regulation does not impose an abrupt change on existing fish farms. Adaptation periods are established: organic fish farms have until 2013 to meet the criteria in certain cases spelled out by the Regulation. On the other hand, any new organic farm will have to comply with the European specifications immediately. The new rules apply on a progressive basis. The Regulation states, for example, that 80 per cent of juveniles can still be non-organic in 2010 and 50 per cent in 2013. It is not until 2015 that all juveniles will have to be organic.

Taking into account the diversity of geographical situations in the countries of the Union, the Regulation seeks to achieve a smooth transition in order to avoid difficulties for operators. The aim is to introduce genuinely ‘organic’ standards but without excessive constraints. A single operator, for instance, may run an organic fish farm and a conventional fish farm if certain physical separation conditions are complied with. However, the Regulation does not impose a minimum separation distance, leaving it to Member State authorities to define physical separation rules based on local production conditions. The idea is to give operators a fair amount of room for manœuvre. The text also provides for the possibility of revising certain points from mid-2013 if requests from the Member States are technically acceptable.

With this new Regulation, the organic aquaculture products that meet European organic production standards will be clearly identified for European consumers. The aim is to guarantee the production of wholesome and high quality foods while reducing to a minimum the impact on the aquatic environment. This legislation will improve the competitiveness of organic aquaculture products by lowering the cost of placing them on the market. Due to the absence of cross-border labelling systems in Europe, operators used to have to bear the costs of re-certification of products they wished to sell in other Member States. Those costs become a thing of the past with the harmonisation resulting from the European ‘organic’ Regulation.

March 2011
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