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Official Organic Endorsement Challenged

US - The National Organics Standards Board has opened a week of meetings to debate whether farmed fish should qualify for the federal government's official organic label.

Opponents say qualification would violate the Agriculture Department's own standards.

They claim that the fish meal and fish oil used in aquaculture concentrates pollutants and heavy metals that are hazardous to human health. They also say the most common method of fish farming, called open-pen net farming, is intensive and inconsistent with the principles of organic animal production.

The industry contends that a US organic standard for farmed fish is needed to help producers improve their operations and compete against foreign producers.

Without the standard farmers risk losing a foothold in a the $15.5 billion US organic market, which has growing phenomenally in he past two years.

Consumers are already accustomed to organic labelling, but with fish none is endorsed by the official USDA mark. The reason is that overseas producers are permitted to carry labels awarded by their own countries —- a premise that angers many domestic fish farmers.

In March, the Organic Standards Board voted to temporarily exclude all US-farmed fish from the organic standard. It is also requesting comments on two key issues :

  • Fish meal and fish oil. The board's proposed rule would allow no more than 24 percent of a farmed fish's feed to include of products from wild fishes. And, this percentage would be phased out after seven years.

  • Open-net pens. The board has proposed to allow them only on sites where water depth, current velocities and direction, and other environmental factors prevent waste solids from building up on the sea bed or surrounding waters.

Ellen Hardy

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