News last update:6 Aug 2012

USDA approves rules organic farmed fish

The USDA has approved criteria that clear the way for farmed fish to be labeled "organic". The standards approved by the National Organic Standards Board would allow organic fish farmers to use wild fish as part of their feed mix provided it did not exceed 25 percent of the total and did not come from forage species.

"Finally, maybe there's a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of defining what's organic," said Wally Stevens, executive director of the Global Aquaculture Alliance. "The challenge is to figure out how we can produce a healthy protein product with a proper regard to where the feed comes from."

George Leonard, a marine ecologist and aquaculture director for the Ocean Conservancy, said the board sought to accomplish the "extraordinarily complicated" task of establishing a sustainable farming practice that does not yet exist. He noted that requiring organic operations to use feed made of trimmings from sustainable wild-caught fish, such as pollock, or from organically farmed fish would be better than relying on the small, wild fish that farmers currently use.

Federal officials and advisers have devoted enormous time and effort to developing an organic fish standard, reflecting the dramatic growth of the industry in recent years. U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to an estimated $20 billion in 2007 and are projected to reach nearly $23.6 billion this year, according to the Organic Trade Association. Fueled at least in part by fears about food safety, sales of organic meat increased tenfold, from $33 million in 2002 to $364 million in 2007, according to the market research firm Mintel.

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