I'm no expert, but every time I buy organic meat, I'm wagering that the animals were treated better than the average, they were fed organic food that itself is free from toxins, and in general, the meat was produced in the most non-environmentally damaging way possible.
Looks like I'd lose my wager if I were to bet the same on organic fish.
You may remember hearing (from us) that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is developing organic aquaculture standards - standards that would allow net-pen farmed salmon to be certified as 'organic'. Well, the second draft of Canada's proposed standards is now available (PDF copy) and it's downright shocking how much the standards contradict even the most basic organic principles.
Want an example? The first draft of Canada's organic aquaculture standard, which was released last year, required at least 70% of feed to be organic. Just for comparison sake, agricultural livestock requires 100% organic feed to be eligible for certification. So 70% was bad enough, but now, due to “insufficient supplies of organic fishmeal”, the current draft allows an unlimited amount of non-organic feed. Unbelievable isn't? A farmed carnivorous fish like salmon could be fed totally NON-organic, possibly unsustainably-sourced wild fish and the Canadian government wants to put an organic label on it.
What's more, the draft organic aquaculture standard does not limit the amount of wild fish that can be used. This allows top-of-the-food-chain fish such as salmon or tuna to be called organic even when their production consumes much more wild fish from potentially overfished or depleted global forage fisheries than the amount of farmed fish produced.
The issue of feed is just one of many things that Canada's draft standard gets wrong, and much of the standard completely contradicts the spirit of the organic movement. Synthetic parasiticides would be allowed (to treat sea lice) and the net pens would be allowed with no adequate provisions to control waste, prevent fish escapes, avoid marine mammal entanglement deaths, or stop the spread of sea lice and disease to wild fish.
Yet these issues can be addressed by farming methods such as closed containment where inputs and outputs can be monitored and controlled. A Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard must reflect practices that address the well-researched impacts of aquaculture as well as uphold the integrity of the organic label. Such a standard would support producers that are using innovative practices to deliver truly sustainable products.
Outraged yet? Now for the good news: there's still something that we can all do about it!
The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) is responsible for holding public comment periods and forming a balanced, multi-stakeholder committee to review comments and re-draft the standards. The second and final public comment period is open until the end of the month, May 31, 2011. Please, please take a moment to share your thoughts with the CGSB!
Or if you'd rather submit your own comments, you can review the second draft and get a blank comment form here. Because come on, there's nothing 'organic' about net-pen farmed salmon.
Tiffany Hilman is the Markets Campaigner and Kelly Roebuck is the Sustainable Seafood Campaign Manager at Living Oceans Society. To learn more about this issue, please visit the Sustainable Seafood and Salmon Farming sections of our website or Farmed and Dangerous.