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05
Nov

Coalition Urges USDA To Preserve Organic Integrity of Farmed Fish

(Beyond Pesticides, November 5, 2007) Forty-four organizations signed on to a letter to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on October 26, asking the board to protect organic aquaculture standards by prohibiting the USDA’s organic label from being placed on fish raised in open net pens or fed wild fish. Six months ago, the NOSB voted overwhelmingly to temporarily ban the labeling of any fish raised under these circumstances as organic until comments from industry and the organic community on the issue could be heard. During this time, the Aquaculture Working Group issued an Interim Report, which proposes conditions under which wild fishmeal and oil could be used as feed ingredients and open net pen fish farming would be allowed in organic aquaculture. In response to the report’s suggestions, the co-signing organizations conclude that while the farming of herbivorous finfish may be conducted within organic regulations, farming carnivorous finfish (including salmon) in open net cage systems is an inherently flawed farming practice, incompatible with organic principles. “Raising fish in this manner directly contradicts USDA Organic regulations; putting a USDA Organic label on these fish is like trying to force a round peg into a square hole,” said Center for Food Safety Legal Director Joseph Mendelson. The NOSB will meet in late November to decide whether fish farmed under these conditions can be certified as organic.The body of the letter reads:

In developing U.S. organic standards over the last sixteen-plus years, Congress, USDA, the NOSB, organic farmers and consumer and environmental advocates have all recognized that creating ecological balance and conserving biodiversity are guiding principles of organic systems. The undersigned groups concur that certain aquaculture practices – specifically the production of herbivorous finfish in closed systems – can be compatible with organic principles. And, we see significant potential for the USDA organic label to “reward” these seafood producers for ecologically sound production practices. However, as we have detailed in past individual submissions, we believe the farming of carnivorous finfish in open net pen systems inherently contradicts organic principles.

Since the most recent decision of the Livestock Committee to defer rulemaking about wild fishmeal and oil and open net pens until further input from industry and the organics community, the undersigned groups have re-evaluated these aquaculture practices to explore if there are any adaptations or improvements to current, carnivorous finfish farming practices that would make it compatible with organic principles.

Our review of the situation has led us to the same frustrating conclusion. Attempting to define organic standards for open net pens and wild fish as feed is like attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole – the principles and the practices are simply incompatible. The more we have tried to adapt open net pens to meet organic principles, the more obvious the inconsistencies have become.

Extensive research on the impacts of open net pens on marine ecology has been done and no solution to those impacts has been found, save for the use of technology that creates an impermeable barrier between farmed and wild fish, allows for waste collection, and treats water going into and leaving the farm system. Moreover, there are no consistent or reproducible standards to measure pollution from open net pens, so enforcement regarding pollution problems from open systems is extremely difficult. While some refer to benthic layer sampling as a way to measure pollution from open net pen systems, this type of testing is difficult to standardize. In fact, pollution problems may be missed with this methodology due to inherent turbidity issues.

Further, if we accept the Aquaculture Working Group’s proposal to include open net pens and feed from wild fish within organic standards, we are forced to treat the symptoms rather than the disease. In other words, instead of simply prohibiting the use of ecologically harmful farming methods, we are left with organic standards that attempt to reduce the severity of the farming impacts associated with an inherently flawed farming practice, that of carnivorous finfish farming in open net pen systems.

Pure Salmon Campaign Director Andrea Kavanagh points out that an inventory of international data reveals that open net salmon farms, whether labeled as “organic” or not, may inevitably allow escapes and the spread of sea lice and infectious diseases. “The ugly truth is that salmon farmed in open net cages pose a threat to the marine environment and public health and should never be sold as ‘organic,’” she said.

Urvashi Rangan, PhD, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst at Consumers Union, said, “Consumers deserve clear assurance that their choice of organic products supports a safer and more sustainable environment. Fish labeled as ‘organic’ that are not fed 100 percent organic feed, come from polluting open net cage systems, or that are contaminated with mercury or PCBs fall significantly short of consumer expectations and undermine the integrity of the organic label.”

The letter was signed by: Australian Marine Conservation Society, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Consumers Union, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Equal Exchange, Florida Consumer Action Network, Food and Water Watch, Friends of Clayoquot Sound, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Oldman River, Georgia Strait Alliance, Go Wild Campaign, Greenpeace Canada, Greenpeace USA, Gulf Restoration Network, The Humane Society of the United States, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Living Oceans Society, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Mangrove Action Project, National Cooperative Grocers Association, Northeast Organic Farming Association, Norwegian Salmon Association, OCEANA – South American Office, Organic Consumers Association, The Organic Research Centre- Elm Farm, Pure Salmon Campaign, Raincoat Conservation Society, Rural Advancement Foundation International, Save the Swilly, Sierra Club Canada, Sierra Club, Slow Food Canada, T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, Trout Unlimited, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Wilderness Committee, Wild Farm Alliance, Wild Fish Conservancy, and Yukon Salmon Committee.

Source: Earth Times

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