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“Organic” Salmon May Muddy the Waters for Californians

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 By Lori Abbott/Craig Eicher, Contact
November 30, 2007

Can a fish raised in an underwater pen with thousands of other fish be sold as "organic?" That's the issue being 'reeled in' this week by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory panel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The NOSB is considering whether "farmed" fish should qualify for the USDA organic label. Opponents say this type of aquaculture is bad for the fish, and for the environment. Thom Fox, executive chef at San Francisco’s ACME Chophouse, says it's also misleading to California consumers, most of whom have certain expectations when they pay the higher prices for products labeled "organic."

"What they're looking for is assurance, at some level, that what is on the label is what they're buying; and there's a lot of concern the seafood standards are being 'watered down,' no pun intended."

Supporters say the fish is safe to eat and that the organic standard is needed to help fish farmers compete with foreign producers. But Chef Fox says raising salmon in the open-net pens creates pollution problems.

"It's not unlike a feedlot, where you would have 5, 10, 15 or 100,000 cows. You can imagine that the amount of waste that these fish generate is significant."

The 15-member NOSB advises the USDA on issues related to organic products and production methods.

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