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“Organic” Aquaculture Concerns 3/14

Currently, federal organic standards for seafood do not exist, and fish cannot be sold as “organic” in the US.

But the fish industry is eager for standards to be developed and start selling farmed fish, including salmon raised in open net pens in the ocean, as “organic.”

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the 15-member expert citizen panel charged by Congress with the important task of determining which synthetic materials are allowed in organic production, will be voting at its upcoming meeting on four petitions for synthetic materials proposed for use in organic aquaculture.

Consumers Union is urging the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to reject these petitions, because allowing synthetic materials before organic standards are in place is like putting the cart before the horse.

The NOSB is simply unable to adequately review the petitioned materials until they know which types of aquaculture systems, and which species of fish, will be allowed to be certified as “organic.”

Some of these petitioned materials may be compatible with organic principles when used in one type of system - like land-based closed systems where interaction with the environment and marine ecosystems can be controlled - but incompatible when used in others - like open ocean systems where the material would be in direct contact with the surrounding marine ecosystem.

We also continue to urge the NOSB to reconsider previous recommendations for organic aquaculture standards, and ensure that standards for organic aquaculture would address the following:
Prohibit Open Ocean Systems

We are concerned that open ocean aquaculture is incompatible with organic principles. In 2007, a coalition of more than 40 organic farmers, consumer advocates, animal welfare, conservation groups and even celebrity chefs joined forces to call on the USDA to ensure that the organic label does not include carnivorous fish and open ocean systems. These organizations included the Center for Food Safety, the Humane Society of the United States, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club Canada, Trout Unlimited, Food and Water Watch, Pure Salmon Campaign and Consumers Union.

Open ocean systems are potentially damaging to the marine ecosystem by creating water pollution from fish waste, excess feed and dead fish.

Escapes from open ocean systems may cause genetic disruption of wild fish when they interbreed with or overtake wild fish populations.

Farming certain fish, like salmon, at high stocking densities in open net cages creates a breeding ground for bacterial and viral diseases as well as parasites, which can readily transfer to and from wild fish by tidal flow and escapes. An October 2006 study published in the National Academy of Sciences showed sea lice infections on salmon farms in British Columbia can kill up to 95 percent of young wild salmon as they migrate out to sea past salmon farms. The Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management has estimated that in some areas, 90 percent of the outgoing juvenile, wild salmon run carries lethal lice levels.

It is also still unclear whether open ocean systems can function long-term without the drugs, including antibiotics and parasiticides, that are currently used in conventional aquaculture.

The State of Alaska prohibited open ocean finfish farming in 1990, to protect the health of its native marine ecosystem and the fishing industry that depends on it. The Alaska state legislature opposes open ocean aquaculture for finfish and predatory shellfish.

Given these concerns, we are urging the NOSB to reconsider previous decisions and prohibit all open ocean systems.

Require 100% organic feed

Like other animals raised for food, organic fish should be given 100% organic feed. This would exclude the use of wild-caught fish meal and fish oil. We are concerned with the safety of wild-caught fish, which is exposed to oceanic pollutants, including methyl mercury and radiation, which cannot be controlled. Those pollutants concentrate as they move up the food chain, and with consumers at the top of the chain, we believe that carnivorous farmed fish should not carry the organic label.

Prohibit carnivorous fish

Carnivorous fish like salmon and cod require other fish as food. A farmed salmon diet relies heavily on wild fish, which should never be certified organic. They also place pressure on wild fish for feed. It currently takes three pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon, not exactly an ecologically efficient system. And, this “fish chow” exposes farmed salmon to a variety of toxins such as PCBs and dioxins.

Prohibit organic salmon and other migratory fish

We are concerned that salmon farming interferes with the animals’ natural behavior. Salmon are migratory fish, and cannot exhibit this instinctive natural behavior when they are confined. Salmon farming, or farming any other migratory fish, is not compatible with organic principles and should not be allowed.
We will be at the upcoming meeting of the NOSB, in San Antonio, Texas from April 29 - May 2, urging them to reconsider their previous recommendations that would allow open ocean net pens to raise “organic” fish, and urging them to reject all petitions related to aquaculture that are up for a vote, until standards are in place.

Consumers have the opportunity to submit written comments to the NOSB until April 8.
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