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Organic Quest Still Politically Charged

by Ellen Hardy
15 January 2008, at 12:00am

US - News standards, currently being considered by the National Organics Standards Board (NOSB), may allow farmed fish to achieve official organic status and carry federal government approved "organic" labels.

According to the Heartland Institute, proponents say the organic label is appropriate for fish raised in offshore, open-net pens and for fish raised on feedstock containing less than 25 percent wild fish. Opponents disagree and say open-net pens in offshore waters can contaminate the local environment with a build-up of fish waste, parasites, and disease if the pens are not properly sited or managed.

Other concerns are the relate to the difficulties in tracing the diet of fish raised in open-net pens. Opponents also argue open-net pens violate the spirit of organic farming because farmed fish sometimes escape into the wild environment and can thus "contaminate" wild fish stocks.

"Until we have proof that open-net cage fish farms do not harm the ocean environment or the life within it, farmed fish including salmon should not be allowed to carry the coveted USDA [US Department of Agriculture] organic label," said Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pure Salmon Campaign.

Political points

Brad Hicks, chairman of the Pacific Oceanic Seafood Association, disagrees. He says that the use of wild caught sources of fish for organic fish farming systems is feasible, acceptable, and should be encouraged.

"The use of fish meal and fish oil for rearing fish is an excellent use of these resources. It is ecologically more prudent to use these resources for rearing fish than many of the other common uses of these materials, such as fuel, fertilizer, industrial raw material, and food for terrestrial livestock," he added.

He believes a primary hindrance to the use of fish meal and fish oil in organic fish farming is politically based.

NOSB is expected to make a final decision on the classification of organically farmed fish early this year.
The 15-member board is authorized by the US Secretary of Agriculture and charged with assisting the secretary in developing standards for substances to be used in organic production. The board comprises four farmers/growers, two handlers/processors, one retailer, one scientist, three consumer/public interest advocates, three environmentalists, and one certifying agent.

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Ellen Hardy