US organic seafood appears a lost cause


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
May 2, 2014

The longstanding effort to get the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve standards for organic seafood production took a major setback this week during a National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in San Antonio.

In a letter to the Aquaculture Working Group in which he chairs, aquaculture expert George Lockwood said a “hostile atmosphere permeated the NOSB members” due to unilateral decisions to change the approval process for synthetic materials and a “well-organized anti-aquaculture effort” by known opponents.

Lockwood said that, behind the scenes, “AWG was badly smeared and we are seen as a tool for commercial fish farmers.” Groups like the Organic Consumers Association, the National Organic Coalition, Consumers Union, Cornucopia, Food and Water Watch, the Center for Food Safety and Beyond Pesticides were all present and spoke against salmon net pens and the use of any synthetic materials in aquaculture. AWG had petitioned for the use of vaccines and chlorine in culture water. And when the use of vaccines, chlorine and even vitamins was questioned, AWG was not present to address those concerns.

“In my mind, all of this is due to the unwillingness of [National Organic Program Deputy Administrator] Miles McEvoy to allow the AWG to do its job of providing expert advice to NOSB on aquaculture matters,” continued Lockwood. “AWG was assigned by NOP in 2009 the task of preparing petitions for essential materials, and then when NOSB began their work, we were deliberately prohibited from interacting with them.”
AWG is now viewed in a “negative and hostile light,” he added.

“We have not been allowed to build credibility. During the period from 2005 and 2010 when we worked closely with NOSB members in developing the recommended rules, we were able to build considerable confidence and credibility. Without our participation whatsoever, this good working relationship is missing and has caused considerable damage.

“During the meeting [McEvoy] told the board that he now plans to have their proposed Final Rule for aquaculture posted by ‘the end of the year.’ We heard this same comments in 2012, 2013, and now 2014. I have considerable doubts if that will happen.”

It remains unclear what will happen with the work of AWG and NOSB members who have pushed for organic seafood standards for the better part of a decade. But, as Lockwood concluded, limited funds for travel to important meetings. “And,” Lockwood said, “without AWG experts being included in telephone conference calls, NOSB members will continue to be paranoid about aquaculture.”

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