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"Organic" label on fish would mislead under proposed standards

Consumer Reports News: September 02, 2010 02:58 PM

A group of more than 40 organizations, including our publisher, Consumers Union, came out hard against a set of proposed standards for organic Canadian seafood this week. The proposals would allow an organic label to be slapped on fish that comes from farms that use antibiotics and feed their fish up to 30 percent nonorganic food—including fish from the wild that could easily contain mercury and PCBs, according to a letter from the groups.

“Consumers deserve clear assurance that their choice of organic products supports a safer and more sustainable environment,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., technical policy director at Consumers Union. “Fish labeled as 'organic' that are not fed 100 percent organic feed, that come from polluting open-net pen systems, or that are contaminated with PCBs fall significantly short of expectations for organic products.”

Similar proposed organic standards for U.S. farmed fish have also been issued and are awaiting final review and rulemaking from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. standards being recommended would also fall far short of the standards set for other organicly-raised animals—unless the USDA revises the proposals before finalizing them—according to Consumers Union and many of the organizations that signed the letter to the Canadian government.

Americans expect better standards for organic fish. A poll from the Consumer Reports National Research Center in 2008 found that 93 percent of Americans agreed that organic fish should be produced with 100 percent organic feed, as other organically raised animals are. And 90 percent of Americans believed that organic fish farms should be required to recover waste and not pollute the environment. Whether consumers choose Canadian or American seafood, they should be able to trust that an organic label means something. Right now " organic" means very little when applied to seafood.

Kevin McCarthy, associate editor

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