GREENFIELD, Mass. (April 12, 2003)— On the heels of a sensible decision in repealing language that gutted organic livestock standards, Congress blundered yet again by passing an amendment to the Organic Foods Production Act that ignores the wishes of the public and opens the door to labeling wild fish as organic.
Introduced by Senators Stevens and Murkowski (Alaska), the amendment disregards the very basics of what it takes for a product to be labeled organic. “The term ‘organic’ on a food product really describes a complete system of production that begins on a farm,” said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association. “At its core, agriculture is a land-based system; standards for organic agricultural production do not translate readily to a water-based system.”
Organic foods are highly regarded in the hearts and minds of shoppers to a large degree because of the stringent standards required to produce them, including 100 percent organic feed for organic livestock and methods used to keep each animal healthy. With wild aquatic animals, there’s no way to ensure what they’re eating, and there are significant challenges in monitoring the health of the individual animals.
As part of a mandate pushed through by Senator Stevens, in 2000 and 2001 the United States Department of Agriculture conducted public discussion sessions and expert review on the possibility of creating standards for labeling wild aquatic animals as organic. “The answer then was no, the public didn’t want wild fish labeled as organic, and experts advised against it,” DiMatteo said. “What part of ‘no’ isn’t clear? The tunnel vision on this issue is outrageous.”
Furthermore, this amendment is another unfunded mandate for a USDA program that is already resource-challenged. Any additional funding for the National Organic Program would be better spent in ensuring comprehensive enforcement procedures for existing standards and completing a backlog of materials reviews.
For those fisheries that operate in an environmentally sustainable way, the Marine Stewardship Council already offers a set of comprehensive standards that is used for a sustainable designation. A labeling program for wild aquatic animals already exists; the challenge before the fisheries industry is to educate consumers about the benefits of that label, not to put further resources into developing standards for yet another label for seafood.
April 12, 2003
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