Is Organic Farmed Fish an Oxymoron?

As one regulatory debate ends, another begins: An advisory board to the USDA has approved criteria that would permit farmed fish to be labeled organic, the Washington Post reports.

It’s already debatable whether any fish can, or should, be labeled organic. The USDA previously ruled out all wild fish: The Chicago Tribune explains the agency’s logic: “The whole notion of ‘wild’ is at odds with the government’s rigorous criteria for classifying organic livestock production. Wild, after all, can’t be controlled.” But somewhat perversely, the USDA says organic farmed fish can eat fish meal that’s made from wild fish. (Wild fish that aren’t threatened species would be allowed to make up 25 percent of farmed feed.) That’s angered the Consumers Union, which says that allowing partially nonorganic feed would set a lower standard for fish than other organic foods, amounting to what the CU calls “a dangerous precedent.”

In any case, you won’t see organic fish soon: A USDA spokesman told Scientific American that there’s no timetable for taking up the recommendations. And even if the criteria are approved, organic fish won’t be easy to find: So few fish farms meet the proposed standards that George Leonard, a marine ecologist on the advisory board, told the Post the criteria are essentially for “a sustainable farming practice that does not yet exist.”

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