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Soil Association embraces organic aquaculture

UK - Following eight years developing the most rigorous aquaculture standards and assessing every aspect of UK farmed fish production, the Soil Association - the original and best-respected organic standards organisation in the world - has taken the highly significant step of giving its full backing to organic aquaculture.

Soil Association embraces organic aquaculture - UK - Following eight years developing the most rigorous aquaculture standards and assessing every aspect of UK farmed fish production, the Soil Association - the original and best-respected organic standards organisation in the world - has taken the highly significant step of giving its full backing to organic aquaculture.

Although the Soil Association's aquaculture standards have had full organic status from the Government's Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS) since 1998, the Association's own governing body has demanded improvements above this baseline, and far greater clarity on the potential impacts of fish farming. To encourage this process, the standards had been held in 'interim' status by Soil Association's trustees. The removal of this 'interim' qualification reflects the results of three years' intensive work by the Association's aquaculture team [1].

Most of the world's wild fisheries face serious over-exploitation, and fish-farming yields are set to exceed wild catches over the next 20-30 years. As one of the world's leading organisations dedicated to sustainable food production, the Soil Association felt aquaculture was something it could not afford to ignore.

And notwithstanding the rapid growth in consumer interest, the Soil Association Council maintained interim status for eight years - uniquely across the sectors we license whilst instigating an intensive three-year scientific research and development programme [2]. That development programme led to a set of new, radically-improved standards - approved by Council in July, following field visits, seminars, and detailed briefing by staff.

Soil Association Scotland Director Hugh Raven hailed this crucial step-forward in organic aquaculture: "The Soil Association has followed a responsible and pragmatic path to bringing aquaculture fully into the organic fold. It would have been a dereliction of duty to ignore this hugely important food sector - and one with the potential to vastly reduce the unsustainable exploitation of wild fisheries.

"But fish farming has been highly controversial as is any food production system that puts profit before principles and good practice.

"As with land-based organic farming, the Soil Association's aim is to achieve the most sustainable production for aquaculture. Our new standards represent carefully targeted key improvements on their 'interim' predecessors. We are delighted Council recognises the progress we've made by unanimously granting them full approval.

"We now embark on a major programme of continuing work to develop the standards further focusing on priorities such as sustainable fish feeds, moving away from potentially polluting veterinary treatments, and farming multiple species of fish, sea-weed and crustaceans to minimise nutrient losses - replicating the diversity of cropping and species found on land-based organic farms."

Soil Association aquaculture specialist Peter Bridson added: "This is great news for our certified fish-farmers who've been producing top-quality organic fish for several years. They and we take our responsibility to justify the trust of consumers extremely seriously. Though there's more work to do, we now feel confident that Soil Association-certified organic salmon and trout are the most sustainably produced fish consumers can buy. Another key factor in choosing organic farmed-fish is that this premium product allows smaller-scale, locally-based producers to make a living whilst respecting the ecological constraints of the aquatic environment." [3].

CASE STUDY

Lewis Macleod, Lewis Salmon, Western Isles.
Lewis Macleod owns and runs Lewis Salmon in the Western Isles. Previously contracted to grow fish for large multinationals, Lewis is one of the most recent converts to Soil Association organic production:
"The big companies focussed only on large-scale production. Organic production is a more natural way to go."

As an experienced fish farmer, he feels that:
"Rearing half the number of fish is better for the site and better for the seabed. The fish are of better quality and the site is more sustainable. Whilst it's more challenging to grow fish organically and there are many more guidelines to adhere to - there's no doubt there's a good future for organic fish farming with more and more people looking to buy products which are free of chemicals."

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