How Fish Could Change What It Means For Food To Be Organic

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How Fish Could Change What It Means For Food To Be Organic

At Troutdale Farm in Missouri, farmhand Vince Orcutt pulls out rainbow trout ready to harvest.

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

When it comes to organic ertification, food producers must follow strict guidelines.

For an organic steak, for instance, the cow it came from has to be raised on organic feed, and the feed mix can’t be produced with pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetic engineering.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering a set of rules for organic farmed fish. Several consumer groups, though, say the recommended rules don’t go far enough to meet the strict standards of other organic foods.

The feed that the fish eat is at the center of the debate.

On one side of the issue: the National Organic Standards Board, a federal advisory board whose members are appointed by the secretary of agriculture. NOSB recommended guidelines for how fish can be grown organically in pens in the ocean and how much wild-caught fish can be ground up as fish meal to feed the fish.

What the National Organic Standards Board recommended was that there would be some allowance for nonorganic fish feed that would be phased out after a 12-year period of time.

Farmed fish, like these rainbow trout, are at the center of a debate within the organic industry.

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

Many organic stakeholders, however, say an organic diet is important for organic livestock and fish.

The Center for Food Safety, says fish farmed under the recommended standards shouldn’t be certified as organic, because the wild fish used in the fish meal can’t be certified as organic.

There is also concerned about raising farmed fish in pens in the open ocean, as farmers can’t control the toxins the fish are exposed to. Ocean-based fish farms could also be a source of pollution. Diseases can pass between populations of wild and farmed fish.

The particles from these facilities eventually settle on the ocean floor and can dramatically alter the oxygen [available] and reduce the population of bottom-dwelling animals.

Consumer groups and Consumers Union have also opposed the recommended standards for organically farmed fish.

The labeling question has big monetary implications: The organic food market is exploding — it’s currently worth about $35 billion a year — and many fish farmers and retailers want in.

But some in the organic industry worry that certifying farmed fish as organic would mark a watering down of organic standards.

There will be a significant consumer education piece involved in what is the difference between a conventionally farmed fish and an organically farmed one. And how does that relate to the difference between a conventional egg and an organic egg?

With so many labels on food products at the grocery store, some worry that an organic label might lose its power.

Fish farmers and scientists are working to create more sustainable aquaculture. Some farms are using closed loop systems that recycle water. And researchers are experimenting with fish feed made from ingredients like soybeans and animal byproducts, which could possibly make up certified organic feed.

The organic debate is an important one for fish farmers.. An upwelling spring feeds about a dozen cement raceways filled with rainbow trout. Workers use nets to pull out basketfuls of fully grown fish.

Troutdale Farm owner Merritt Van Landuyt doesn’t use any growth hormones, synthetic chemicals or antibiotics in raising rainbow trout.

Kristofor Husted/Harvest Public Media

New owners took over the farm in 2002 and revamped it with a new water system. They also decided against the use of any chemical additives, growth hormones or antibiotics.

The USDA plans to publish its organic standard proposal for farmed fish by summer. That will open a public comment period of at least 60 days.

Source:, 2-3-2015

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