Groups react to Canada’s organic standards

Reaction is pouring in to news that Canadian farmed fish can now be certified as organic via the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard.

Released on Thursday, the final standards were prepared by a special committee of the federal government’s Canadian General Standards Board and approved by the Standards Council of Canada. The standards prohibit the use of antibiotics, herbicides and genetically modified organisms and restrict the use of parasiticides. Overall, the final standards are more restrictive than the draft standards released in 2010.

Among the groups heralding the final standards are British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA), Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) and Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA).

“This is a strong standard that will meet the consumers’ confidence in organic designations, while providing an opportunity to some of our farmers interested in achieving this certification,” said Mary Ellen Walling, BCSFA executive director. “Any certification process that encourages high standards and continuing improvement of our business is a positive step.”

Walling said most British Columbia salmon farmers won’t pursue organic certification, adding that BCSFA’s members are “constantly working to improve their operations within the most highly regulated food production industry in the province.”

“The industry works hard to maintain its high standards,” agreed Ruth Salmon, CAIA executive director, “and organic certification will provide an opportunity for some of our farmers to apply organic standards to their methods of production.”

Added Matthew Holmes, COTA executive director: “Until now, organic claims could show up on aquaculture products from outside the country and consumers wouldn’t know whether the claims were trustworthy or what standards they met. Now we have a made-in-Canada standard that clearly and verifiably defines the environmental and husbandry requirements, and meets consumers’ expectations for a high-water mark for this quickly-growing Canadian sector.”

Other groups, however, are not pleased with the final standards, particularly with inclusion of net-pen farmed fish, which can be certified as organic. A representative of one conservation group called it “greenwashing.”

In a joint statement, the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Living Oceans Society and Ecology Action Centre said by including net-pen farmed fish the final standards “fails miserably at one of its claimed principles, to ‘protect the environment, minimize benthic degradation and erosion and water quality degradation, decrease pollution, optimize biological productivity and promote a sound state of health.’” 

“With growing consumer interest in sustainable, local and organic food, this organic labeling will undermine public confidence in all organic and sustainable labels,” said Rob Johnson of the Ecology Action Center. “With this standard for open net pen fish, we’re seeing greenwashing being taken to an entirely new level.”

The groups launched a website,, to provide information on the concerns associated with the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard.


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