by Marion Nestle
Apr 16 2007

“Organic” Fish

I keep putting “organic” in quotation marks because it is hard to know what it would take to consider a fish organically raised or nurtured. The basis of organic food production is control over growing conditions. But big fish eat smaller fish and migrate thousands of miles over rivers and oceans. If they end up full of methylmercury and PCBs, how can they possibly be considered organic? Fish farming also seems anything but organic. Farm-raised fish are treated with pesticides to prevent lice, and they eat pellets containing artificial colors, parts of fish and other animals, and binders and thickeners made from soybeans that could be genetically modified. How, you might want to know, could any farmed fish be labeled organic?

  • Hello, I was checking out Rancho La Puerta and read about you. Now I’ll be buying this book! Thank you…I actually think there should be a movie made, much like Michael Moore’s genre,
    about the food industry. We are being duped to think we are purchasing anything we actually ‘believe’ we are purchasing.The comments you listed about farmed salmon really irked me. I thought I was eating something good and I’m eating something with dye and that’s been created from pellets? oh – my – gosh! I’m trying to buy organic or healthy stuff, but even ‘organic’ has to be looked into, per item. Thank you…we need more help like yours! Keep up the great writing and honest help you are delivering to us all. Can
    America even save herself from obesity, fast food and poor health, due to diet? Take care, Donna

  • Several people have made–or are making–movies about the kinds of food issues I talk about. The most obvious ones are Fast Food Nation and Our Daily Bread. And when it comes to our food system, I think there is plenty to be optimistic about. Organic and natural foods are the fastest growing segments of the food industry. People are voting with their forks for changes in the food system, and that’s exciting. Thanks for writing.

  • Cheryl

    We so enjoy farm raised catfish . . . Is it yucky? Cheryl

  • Julie

    Check out the Seafood Watch program sponsored by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. This program has excellent educational materials on sustainable fishing, including very useful pocket guides on what seafood are best to buy based on whether they come from sustainable sources.

  • If there is a healthy environment to raise fishes, it should be organic. the farmers shpuld follow a certain discipline.

  • Fish farmers should provide a neat environment for the fishes to grow.

  • Marcia

    Our family has been eating alot of farm-raised salmon because it is more resonable in price than wild salmon. We are trying to get more omega-3. Are we defeating our purpose with ingesting the “color added”? Thanks.

  • Marion

    I discuss this issue in What to Eat. Take a look and thanks for writing.

  • Oshme

    Fish farmers should be more careful. They should feed the fish natural food instead of food contain pesticide.

  • Good Timescharlie

    Hi Marion, another great discussion starter, thanks. I will weigh in on this as it falls in the arena of my expertize. I’m a fishhead. My company’s VP of Sustainability works directly with Monterey Bay Aquarium, NOAA, other GOs and NGOs on all matters in the global seafood community. The “organic” label does not yet exist in the seafood world. Wild fish will never be able to obtain an organic designation for the reasons you called out in your post. However farmed fish are on their way to the organic label. Right now, a hand full of farmers are begining the certification process. The main barrier has the fish feed industry. Only one company to date has stepped up to produce an organic, non-gmo, antibiotic-free fish feed that is not soy based. It may take up to 5 years but you will be able to remove the quotations in the not-to-distant future.