This summer organics hit a new low. With funding support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) members of the aquaculture industry developed their own draft organic aquaculture standards. The allowances in the standards—including organic certification of fish treated with antibiotics and chemicals toxic to marine organisms—would make any organic label reader turn pale.
Thank goodness there is a significant hoop the standards need to pass through between industry draft and official acceptance as part of the Canadian organic program. The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) is responsible for holding public comment periods and forming a balanced, multi-stakeholder committee to review comments and re-draft the standards. Only when the voting members of the committee have agreed on the standards can they become regulation.
But there is a lot of work to be done! The draft standards cover seaweed, aquatic invertebrates (shellfish) and aquatic animals (fish) and the disparities within the standards are striking. The proposed standards for shellfish prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, prohibit the destruction of aquatic organisms or aquatic organism habitat, and prohibit direct dispersal of waste into the environment. Now that sounds like something you'd call organic.
The proposed standards for fish, on the other hand, allow antibiotics, allow chemical pesticides (to treat sea lice), and allow net pens with no provisions to control waste, stop the spread of sea lice and disease to wild fish or prevent escapes. If you are already wondering how this could ever be considered organic, it gets worse. The proposed standards also allow an unlimited amount of non-organic feed ingredients—opposed to the 100% organic feed currently required for other livestock—including no limits on the use of wild fish to allow top-of-the-food-chain fish such as salmon or tuna to be called organic even when their production consumes much more wild fish from already strained global fisheries than farmed fish produced.
It appears the authors of the fish standards forgot the general principles of organic production (codified in existing Canadian organic standards) call for the protection of the environment from degradation, erosion and pollution.
A 60 day public comment period to give input on the draft standards was open until August 30, 2010. Over 40 groups from the US and Canada sent in a joint sign on letter and issued a press release objecting to organic standards that allow net pens, antibiotics and chemicals, and the use of much more wild fish as feed than farmed fish produced.
Many members of the organic community have also expressed concern. Weakening organic standards to allow antibiotics and practices with substantial environmental impacts (documented in many scientific papers) undermine the credibility of the organic label that has been built over decades.
While this round of public comment is closed there will be more... A second drafting of the standards will begin in late October. In the meantime, you can still view the proposed Canadian organic aquaculture standards and keep supporting real organic practices.
To learn more, visit the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform.
Shauna MacKinnon works with the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform coalition through her work as a Markets Campaign Coordinator with Living Oceans Society.