Food & Water Watch and Others Oppose National Organic Standards Board Decision to Undermine Organic Principles
Washington, DC — Today the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommended that fish from open water aquaculture be certified as organic, setting a precedent that would lower the bar on organic standards, according to the national consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch. Despite immense opposition from leading organizations within the organic, ocean conservation, consumer and food safety communities, NOSB‚ decision would undermine two basic organic principles — promoting biodiversity and minimizing environmental impact — by allowing open net pens and wild fish feed in the production of “organic” fish.
“The principles and practices behind open water aquaculture are simply incompatible with organic standards,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Allowing the ‘USDA Organic’ label on a product that does not meet standards for all other organic foods is misleading to consumers and threatens the future of organics.”
One major concern cited by consumer groups is a loophole created by NOSB to allow 25 percent of fish feed to be composed of wild fish – a recommendation that conflicts with the current organic mandate that all livestock feed be 100 percent organic. The board skirted around the issue by defining this feed as a “supplement” rather than a feed source, a risky decision that could lead to other forms of organic production following suit.
The farming of carnivorous finfish — like salmon, cobia, Atlantic cod and halibut — in open net pens could also threaten wild fish populations and the marine environment.
“These ocean fish farms use massive amounts of fishmeal made from depleted wild fish stocks, dump waste directly into the ocean – excess food, fish waste and more – can produce fish with higher levels of toxins, and release behaviorally or genetically different fish that might interbreed with or overtake wild fish,” said Marianne Cufone, fish program director of Food & Water Watch. “These significant environmental and human health concerns do not mesh with the organic label.”
One lone member of the NOSB, Bea James, agreed that the Board‚ recommendation is not in keeping with the core meaning of organic. “The best we can do is not an organic standard,” James said. She was also the only no vote on approving this proposal.
After the Board gives its recommendations to USDA, the department will write the regulatory protocol for certifying aquaculture; however, there is no timeline for this process. Food & Water Watch will urge USDA not to move forward on this recommendation.
“Organic principles should not be compromised under any circumstances,” concluded Hauter. “We need USDA to provide consumers with a clear and consistent understanding of how their food is produced. The only fish that should be labeled ‘organic’ should come from practices that protect marine life, and create safe and sustainable seafood for American consumers.”