by Marion Nestle
Nov 20 2008

Organic farmed fish (and water) on the way, alas

Actually, they are more or less here already, but the USDA National Organic Standards Board has just given them a big OK.   According to yesterday’s Food Chemical News, the Board approved (13 to 1) a rule to allow “farmed carnivorous fish to eat meal and oil derived from sustainably wild-caught fish — a practice to be phased out over 12 years until non-organic fish feed is no longer needed” (huh?).  It also approved a more controversial recommendation (the vote was 10 to 4) to “allow use of open net pens in organic aquaculture, but with restrictions to prevent escapes of farmed fish and recycling of nutrients. Net pens would only be allowed in specified areas to avoid lice contamination.”

USDA-approved agencies have been certifying farmed fish as organic for several years now, so the Board was forced to take a stand on this question.  As I have mentioned in previous posts on this topic (and written about extensively in What to Eat), organic rules are supposed to be about the conditions of production.

Since when is ocean water organic?   And isn’t feeding “sustainably wild-caught fish” to farmed fish something of an oxymoron? The producers of farmed fish are desperate to be able to market them as organic.  So isn’t this move more about marketing than about producing fish sustainably and healthfully?

While we are on the subject of marketing, I’ve just gotten a press release from a company selling what it says is the first certified organic bottled water.  Since when is water not organic?  And what’s so special about this one?

The National Organic Program says it welcomes feedback and comments.  Here’s where to send them.

  • Arrrghh that’s so confusing and frustrating! Organic as a buzzword is enough to make any marketer jump through hoops to obtain certification, of course. Coincidentally, I just read a review for a book called Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe. It sounds like a good resource for learning more about the fishing industry.

  • Sheila

    I admit I am confused by this one. I thought a major purpose of farm raising fish was to produce a large amount of a fish for consumption by humans, in a way that would avoid the need to deplete wild fish stocks. So, now we are still killing wild fish stocks to feed to the farm fish?? My head is spinning.

  • naomind

    I don’t think I’ll ever get past thinking there’s organic matter in the water itself. Ew!

  • Sheila–Yup, that’s one of the sticky twists of the farmed fish situation. I never really thought much about what fish eat, and I first learned about the fishing to feed farmed fish earlier this year. Really, including fish in one’s diet seems to be more and more difficult to do ethically and sustainably. For those who do want to consume seafood, Monterrey Bay Aquarium provides regional liststo help you make better choices. But really–mercury and other types of pollution, unsustainable fishing, fish farm escapees carrying disease or changing the gene pool of wild fish…the list goes on.

  • mamma mia! i hope people are not stupid enough to fall for this. they should all read your book!

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