Report Finds Organic Fish Farming Jeopardizes 'Entire U.S. Organic Industry'

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Ocean-based aquaculture fish farming operations are at the center of a heated debate over use of the USDA “organic” certification.

The USDA’s forthcoming regulations on “organic” aquaculture threaten the integrity of the organic label, says advocacy group Center for Food Safety.

Now, CFS has released a report “Like Water and Oil: Ocean-Based Fish Farming and Organic Don’t Mix”,which warns consumers about the dangers of giving aquaculture organic certification. According to the group, doing so “would put the entire U.S. organic industry in jeopardy by weakening the integrity of the USDA organic label,” CFS said on its website. “Fifty-three fishers, organic farmers, organic consumers, and animal welfare and environmental advocacy organizations endorsed the major findings of the [CFS Report.”

Just what is the issue exactly?

According to Dr. Lisa J. Bunin, Center for Food Safety’s Organic Policy Director and the report’s co-author, “It’s absolutely impossible to control or monitor the wide range of substances, including toxic pollutants, that flow into and out of sea-based farms,” she wrote in a statement.

CFS says that a mind-boggling 24 million fish escapes “have been reported worldwide in just over two decades, based upon data compiled by CFS from available public records.”

Once escaped, these farmed fish introduce diseases and bacteria into ecosystems. Non-native species compete for food and resources, putting pressure on native populations. “This disruption of marine ecosystems violates one of the basic tenets of organic, which is to promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity,” the group noted. “Open-ocean fish farms can never be organic.Inputs and outputs to the system cannot be monitored or controlled and neither can a farmed fish’s exposure to toxic synthetic chemicals, which are prohibited under Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and present in the marine environment.”

The group also condemns farming “organic” migratory fish because, “their confinement in fish farms would curtail their biological need to swim far distances, creating undue stress,” CFS explained. “Some migratory species are also anadromous, such as salmon, migrating between freshwater and the ocean during various life stages, a behavior not possible while in containment. The organic standards dictate that organic production systems must not the natural behaviors of farmed animals.”

And the group also points to farmed fish who are fed wild fish meal as inherently flawed in being called organic. “That is because OFPA requires that all certified organic species are fed an organic diet,” CFS explained. “Feeding farmed fish wild-caught fish and related by-products—fish meal and fish oil—would increase pressure on already over-exploited and recovering fisheries that form the basis of the marine food web. It would also decrease the food supply of a wide range of native, aquatic species, including seabirds and sea mammals, contravening the USDA organic biological diversity conservation requirements.”

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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