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Wayne Parsons
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Proposed “Organic” Standards for Fish Fail Consumer Expectations

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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) holds a meeting on November19, 2008 of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) at which it intends to weaken the meaning of "organic" as used in fish labels according to Consumers Union. As crazy as it may seem, NOSB is going to vote to allow fish to be labeled as USDA "organic" even though the fish are not raised under the USDA standards for an "organic" product. According to Consumers Union the NOSB vote would allow the following:

Fish to be fed food other than 100% organic feed—the gold standard that must be met by other USDA-certified organic livestock;

Fishmeal used to feed farmed fish from wild fish—which has the potential to carry mercury and PCBs; and

Open net cages to be used—which flush pollution, disease and parasites from open net fish farms directly into the ocean, adversely impacting wild fish supply, sustainability and the health of the oceans.
 

A Consumers Union poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of this absurd result. The poll shows that 93% of Americans agree that "organic" labeled fish, like other animals, should be raised on 100% organic feed. Ninety percent of consumers believe that ”organic” fish farms should recover waste and not pollute the environment and 57 percent are concerned about ocean pollution resulting from ”organic” fish farms. A copy of the poll can be found here: www.GreenerChoices.org/foodpoll2008.

Its a disservice to the organic program and to consumers that the NOSB is ready to undermine the organic marketplace which relies on a higher bar for environmental health practices being met,” said Urvashi Rangan, PhD, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst at Consumers Union. “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 any measurable level, fall significantly short of consumer expectations.”

The issue of how wild fish in net and feed pens impact the fish and surrounding environment, NOSB says that the wild fish must come from "sustainable" fisheries but then does not define or provide standards for"sustainable" fisheries.

In addition the concerns for water safety from pesticides are not adequately covered by NOSB. They use the pesticide residue testing protocol for organic farms but the testing cycle for farms (once in 5 years) is not adequate for contamination of fish feed.

Consumers Union, the Center for Food Safety and Food & Water Watch have 30,000 signatures in support of strong standards.

Consumer trust in the integrity of the organic label is at stake,” said Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch. “But unfortunately, the NOSB wants to allow the farmed salmon industry to cash in on the organic label without meeting the basic tenets of organic production.”

George Kimbrell, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety has stated that:

Allowing such farmed fish to be labeled organic violates the spirit and letter of the law, is detrimental to the oceans and misleading to the public.

The main support for the NOSB attempts to weaken the "organic" USDA label is the salmon farming industry. As usual these organizations put profits over people. In 2007 a coalition of 44 organizations with over 1 million concerned citizens asked that NOSB and the USDA not weaken USDA Organic Standards. They concluded 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.

Open net salmon farms will allow the spread of sea lice and infectious diseases and lead to food poisoning:

Allowing net pens to be certified as “organic” weakens the incentive for producers to use innovative technologies like closed containment,” said Shauna MacKinnon of Living Oceans Society, a member of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform. “The industry needs technology that controls impacts, not standards that endorse the status quo.”

Call or write your Congressional representatives to stem this attempt to weaken consumer safety. The threats to our food supply and increasing numbers of food poisoning incidents are a threat to our families. In Hawaii our congressional delegation of Inouye, Akaka, Abercrombie and Hirono all support stronger, not weaker, rules that protect the public from food poisoning.