Angelina Jolie has been receiving a lot of press, be it regarding her relationship with Brad Pitt, her newest children, or, most recently, her post-pregnancy diet. At first glance Angelina seems to have picked the perfect diet to optimize health, taste, and sustainability; it sounds delicious and includes key nutritional buzz words such as “Omega-3″, “organic”, and “fresh”. But hold off on running to the store to copy her menu. “Organic” seafood does not exist in the United States, and although standards have been developed in Europe, they are not what U.S. consumers expect from organic foods.
For a food to qualify as organic in the United States, it must be certified as meeting specific standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). With produce, meat, and dairy, the term signifies that the product is not genetically modified, irradiated, and has not been produced with pesticides. The spirit of organic includes production methods that are also environmentally responsible. Seafood, however, is difficult to regulate, as it is impossible to monitor and control the substances that wild fish are exposed to. In the face of this complexity, USDA has not yet developed standards for certifying any seafood as organic. You may find fish products boasting organic labels, but these labels are not official and have relatively little meaning. Official USDA labels may appear soon, as the National Organic Standards Board is discussing criteria for organic seafood, but they are struggling to develop appropriate standards.
There are organic standards in the European Union. Is this just a case of the EU being ahead of the game? Unfortunately, in this case, not at all. The European organic standards are fairly vague and incomplete, failing to protect either consumer health or the environment. They don’t prohibit open water aquaculture, neglect to regulate pollution and waste, permit the use of some chemicals and drugs, and allow wild-caught fish to be used in fish feed. These practices are not clean, green or safe.
If we can’t trust the labels, how are we to decide what seafood to buy? Ask important questions of your restaurants and markets:
- Where is it from? (Domestic or imported , try to choose domestic).
- Is it caught or farmed locally? (Try to choose local foods over those shipped from far away).
- Is it farmed or wild? (Try to choose wild, unless the farming system is known to be clean, green and safe)
- How is it caught? (Ask if the method has high by catch or habitat damage).
- How is it farmed? (When available, buy seafood that has been farmed in the U.S. in indoor, recirculating facilities. Tilapia, shrimp, hybrid striped bass and arctic char are examples of fish that are or are soon to be farmed this way).
- Is it associated with any contaminants? (Mercury, PCBs, antibiotics, etc).
Another tip is to diversify consumption , eating a variety of fish helps to prevent overfishing of specific species.
So, my advice to Angelina and anyone else concerned about making responsible food choices is as follows: don’t be fooled by marketing hype. Ask questions and educate yourself about the products before you buy. By choosing seafood that is clean, green, and safe, you will not only be protecting yourself and your family, you will help ensure the sustainability of our ocean resources for generations to come.
- Darcy White