It’s no secret that consumers are becoming interested in organic foods. Concerns over disease, GMOs, pollution and contaminants are causing a bigger demand for sustainable, organic, nature friendly alternatives. However, it may be surprising to know that in 2007, organic aquaculture accounted for just 0.1% of total aquaculture. There has been a rapid increase in this figure since then, but there are still massive hurdles that need to be jumped before the industry can have organic certification as accurate and reliable as agricultural produce.
Currently, seafood is the only major food industry that has insufficient organic standards, or in some cases, lacks them completely. Although aquaponics was addressed from the agricultural perspective, The U.S. did not propose any standards specific to aquaculture until 2008. Canada didn’t set theirs until 2010, but the contradictions between the two countries create an even bigger headache for importers and marketers. That hasn’t stopped anybody from selling “organic” fish, however. “Organic” salmon has been on supermarket shelves since the early 2000’s, years before the U.S. even put any standards in place. According the the USDA, that is not their problem. As long as they don’t put a USDA organic label on it or imply that it meets U.S. standards, no rules are broken.
The main problem lies in the fact that in order to have a certified organic animal, you have to feed that animal organic food too. Since it is impossible to know what fish eat in nature, wild fish are unable to get certification. The only other option lies in land based aquaculture. However, until organic alternatives to fish meal, and fish oil are readily available, there will be huge controversy over whether organic fish production is even possible at this time.
Perhaps the best indicator of the current status of organic aquaculture can be found from companies that use organic products in their own manufacturing and rely on the accuracy of those labels to sell their own product. Yarrah, an organic pet food brand, has recently stopped using “organic” certified fish products in their food and instead, sources their fish products from Marine Stewardship Council certified animals. According to the company’s homepage, “It takes approximately 3 kg of sustainable, non organic fish derivatives to produce 1 kg of organic fish”. For this reason, among others, the company does not believe that organic fish are raised with concern for animal welfare and sustainability.
While alternative protein and oil sources are being heavily investigated by many government agencies, private companies and fish enthusiasts, the future of organic aquaculture appears to be a bit brighter than the state it is in today. Compared to the rest of the food industry, aquaculture is behind on many aspects and playing catch up will be the primary focus for the next few years.
If you would like more information, here are some sources:
–written by Mike Lolley, Fisheries Intern, Fall 2011