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BOSTON, Massachusetts -- In conjunction with the annual Boston Seafood Show, the Pure Salmon Campaign today issued a warning that American consumers are being misled by farm-raised fish currently being sold with an "organic" label.
At issue are imported Norwegian, Irish and Scottish farmed salmon and also farmed cod certified as "organic" by various European bodies. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has not finalized an organic standard for farmed fish and yet is allowing imported seafood, such as farmed salmon and cod, to be sold in U.S. grocery stores and restaurants with an "organic" label.
"U.S. consumers cannot trust that imported farmed salmon sold as 'organic' is as pure as they expect," said Andrea Kavanagh, Director of the Pure Salmon Campaign. "The USDA should not allow use of this label until a U.S. organic standard is in place."
The USDA's National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is in the process of developing an organic standard for farm-raised fish. Earlier this month, the NOSB Livestock Committee recommended that, without further dialogue, fish from open net cages and those that are fed fish should not be permitted in U.S. organic aquaculture standards. While the Pure Salmon Campaign supports organic standards for non-carnivorous fish farmed in closed systems such as tilapia and catfish, it is not in support of organic certification for carnivorous fish such as salmon raised in open net cages in the marine environment. Open net cage systems allow untreated wastes, the spread of diseases and parasites to wild fish and escapes into the ocean.
"When my customers ask me why I don't serve 'organic' farmed salmon, I tell them there is no such thing," said Ana Sortun, chef and owner of Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "As a chef and wife of an organic farmer, the term organic has no meaning to me when applied to fish."
The first meeting of the National Fisheries Institute's Organic Seafood Committee is set for Tuesday, March 13 in Boston. The Pure Salmon Campaign is concerned that this new aquaculture industry-driven committee will work to promote imported organic seafood labels that don't come close to matching U.S. consumers' expectations of organic food.
"The word 'organic' evokes an image, to the general consumer, of something that was produced in a controlled environment without the use of pesticides and free from harmful contaminants," said Rick Moonen, chef and co-owner of RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. "The organic salmon product on the market now comes from farms that directly dispose feces, that may have used toxic chemicals to kill parasites, and that are not required to ensure their fish are contaminant-free. 'Organic' or not, I will never put a product like that on my menu."
According to an October 2006 survey released by the Pure Salmon Campaign, a majority of U.S. consumers agree with chefs Ana Sortun and Rick Moonen. Six in 10 respondents said that they would not expect farmed fish with the "USDA Organic" label to contain contaminants or be farmed in such a way that is harmful to marine wildlife and not allow fish to follow their natural behavior.
"The National Organic Standards Board must not modify or dilute its 'USDA Organic' label to accommodate salmon raised in open net cages," said Kavanagh. "The very nature of farming carnivorous species -- especially a migratory fish like salmon -- in open net cages makes it completely incompatible with the word 'organic,' regardless of who certifies it. If the USDA certifies farmed salmon as organic, the USDA organic seal won't be worth the paper it's written on."