U.S. speeds up organic aquaculture timetable


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
August 16, 2012

The United States’ rule-making process for organic aquaculture production and certification will happen a lot sooner than just recently anticipated.

According to a representative at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service, proposed rules for organic aquaculture should be ready for public comment in early 2013. Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of the National Organic Program, issued a memorandum in May that stated the process would take two years.

This development bodes well for the seafood industry. The organic food and beverage market in the United States was worth USD 24.8 billion in 2009 (3.7 percent of total U.S. food sales), according to the Organic Trade Association. Seafood remains the only protein category without access to organic standards and the USDA organic label.

McEvoy had asked the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to review a list of substances to be added to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for use in organic aquaculture, and to see whether the substances are compliant with the Organic Foods Production Act. That process will not take as long as previously believed.

Once the NOSB makes its recommendations, the rule-making process offers opportunities for the public to comment and for other federal agencies — such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency — to make modifications. That process could take several months or longer. NOSB recommendations for an organic aquaculture rule proposal were originally expected sometime in 2007, but the issue has been set on the back burner.

It is expected that the production and use of fishmeal for fish feed will be one of the major issues during the public comment phase. Wild forage fisheries — such as anchovies, mackerel and even pollock — are the primary component of fishmeal, so that raises a key sticking point. “Organic” is a process claim, not a product claim: It’s all about input, output and impact and there is no clear way to deem a wild product organic.

Existing U.S. rules do not allow any seafood to bear the coveted “USDA Organic” label due to the lack of standards for organic aquaculture production and certification, though some seafood products are labeled as organic because they’ve been certified by a third-party outfit such as Natürland in Germany. The state of California, however, does not allow any seafood to be marketed as organic in lieu of USDA Organic standards; it remains the only state to have passed such a law. 

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