EU harmonizes organic aquaculture regulation

Opportunities for organic seafood in France remain strong as the market grew 220 percent from 2007 and 2008. Growth in this segment is also clearly visible in the United Kingdom and Germany.

In a bid to boost this blossoming segment — French consumers spend EUR 17 million annually on organic seafood — the European Union this week ushered in new rules to harmonize the regulation of organic aquaculture across the region.

"The potential for growth of [organic aquaculture] is set to be unleashed," said the European Commission this week, emphasizing the need for "coherent and consistent aquaculture policy for the EU over the coming years."

And the seafood industry stands to gain from organic aquaculture's growth — according to the EC, organic salmon, for example, retails at a price premium of some 50 percent over conventional farmed salmon.

Until the arrival of these new rules, organic aquaculture across the European Union was regulated by national, not EU-wide, rules, together with various private schemes — a setup that the EC deemed "far from satisfactory" and that potentially hampered the free movement of goods across the member states.

In 2007, the EU updated its framework for organic food production and labeling, which for the first time included aquaculture. The framework set objectives, principles and general production rules, but "detailed" production rules were needed before member states could translate this into practice, said the EC.

The new rules, which went into effect on Wednesday, specifies animal welfare conditions, including maximum stocking densities. For example, the maximum stocking density for salmon is set at 10 kilograms per cubic meter in net pens in saltwater and 20 kilograms per cubic meter in freshwater. The framework also specifies that biodiversity "should be respected and does not allow the use of induced spawning by artificial hormones," and organic feeds should be supplemented by fish feeds from sustainably managed fisheries.

According to the EC, approximately 123 certified organic fish farms were in operation in Europe in 2008, out of a total of 225 worldwide. They accounted for almost half of global organic farmed fish production of 50,000 metric tons, led by the UK, Ireland, Hungary, Greece and France.

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