Something’s fishy in Washington

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You deserve safe, healthy food. Help us label GMOs and get antibiotics out of food animals.

By Consumers Union on Wednesday, November 19th, 2008


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This week the USDA’s National Organic Standard Board (NOSB) will vote on the standards for “organic” fish getting to carry the USDA organic label – and things smell pretty fishy (ok, bad pun!).
Right now, there are no standards for the kinds of fish production practices that would garner a USDA “organic” label, and the NOSB’s recommendations don’t get us where we want to go. The NOSB recommends that “organic” fish could include:

• Fish fed food other than 100% organic feed—the gold standard that must be met by other USDA-certified organic livestock;
• Farmed fish fed fishmeal from wild fish—which has the potential to carry mercury and PCBs; and
• Fish bred in open net cages—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.

Fish that don’t meet the organic standard can still carry an organic label, as long as it doesn’t say USDA. There are no federal standards for “organic” seafood, but wholesalers, markets and restaurants across the nation have labeled them as such with the exception of California (California passed a law in 2005 that prohibits the use of any organic labeling on fish and other seafood until either state or federal certification standards are established) and some distributors, including Whole Foods.
If the NOSB’s current recommendations get the final OK this week, it would send the mixed message to the fish industry that low production standards will be rewarded with a USDA organic label (and the ability to charge higher prices). This is foul news for our environment and our health!
The USDA should be concerned about its labels losing their credibility. Last week, a Consumers Union Poll revealed:

• An overwhelming majority of us—93 percent—agree that fish labeled as “organic” should be produced by 100 percent organic feed, like all other organic animals.
• Nine in 10 of us also agreed that “organic” fish farms should be required to recover waste and not pollute the environment and 57 percent are concerned about ocean pollution caused by “organic” fish farms.

Read our full findings here.
In general, we pay more to buy organic, and with that price jump we should be able to trust the nutritional and environmental standards of production.
Fish farms shouldn’t be given an easy way in to the USDA organic club. With more than 4 in 10 of us either very concerned or concerned about the health problems associated with eating wild fish, the NOSB should tame up and say all fish farms must meet real organic standards in order to get the prestigious USDA organic label.
[UPDATE 11/20: NOSB approves criteria for labeling sub-par farmed fish “organic”]
From the Scientific American Blog:

What exactly makes a fish organic? Apparently, one that feeds on a nonorganic diet.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) advisory panel says that producers should be allowed to slap organic labels on farmed fish even if their diets include wild fish and other feed that isn’t organic itself—definitions that environmentalists say depart from the criteria for other certified organic animal food products.

Nearly 30,000 of us signed a petition in favor of maintaining strong standards for the organic label for fish. But the NOSB caved in to pressure from the aquaculture industry to push a substandard through, with the chair of the Livestock Committee, Hue Karreman, claiming that he’s trying to “jumpstart” an industry by finding a middle ground. The NOSB’s decision to approve the organic label for farmed fish sets a dangerous precedent that undermines USDA organic principles, as well as our own confidence in the organic marketplace.
With this advice now in the hands of the USDA, the agency should do the right thing and propose revised standards. Sign our petition to the USDA and the Obama Administration Transition Team telling them not to gut the “organic” label for fish!

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