Photo: Demystifying

Synthetic pesticides, non-organic feed, uncontrolled waste disposal: the "organic" salmon farming standard varies little from conventional open-net cage practices. (Credit: This Magazine)

By Kelly Roebuck, Sustainable Seafood Campaign Manager at Living Oceans Society

What comes to mind when you think about certified organic food?

Perhaps you think of food that is better for us and the planet. Food that avoids synthetic pesticides. Livestock that are fed a 100 per cent certified organic diet.

It seems intuitive that the same organic principles that exist for land-grown organic produce, livestock and dairy should also apply to farmed fish.

This is apparently not going to be the case.

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Canadian "organic" farmed salmon will soon be appearing on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus, thanks to the Canadian General Standards Board's (CGSB) recent release of the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard, sponsored by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

While some types of farm-raised seafood (such as farmed shellfish) follow more stringent guidelines to protect the health of our oceans, the "organic" salmon farming standard varies little from conventional open-net cage practices.

The Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard allows:

  • The use of synthetic pesticides
  • The unlimited use of wild fish in feed. Since operations use substantially more wild fish in feed than farmed salmon produced, this allows farmed fish to be certified organic despite contributing to a net loss of marine protein and a drain on already strained global fish stocks;
  • The unrestricted use of feed from non-organic, potentially unsustainable sources, as opposed to the 100 per cent organic feed requirement now in place for all other organic livestock;
  • The potentially uncontrollable spread of disease and parasites to wild fish;
  • The uncontrolled disposal of fish feces into the ocean;
  • Escapes of farmed fish that compete or interbreed with wild fish; and
  • Entanglement, drowning deaths, and licensed killings of marine mammals.

Land-based closed containment aquaculture can greatly reduce or eliminate these environmental risks, and is more compatible with organic principles, but its use is not required by the new standard.

More than 60 groups and 2,000 individuals asked the CGSB to raise the standards for farmed salmon during a public comment period. The Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Living Oceans Society and three other voting members (including organic associations), all voted No to the new Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard. However, the standard still passed.

Weak aquaculture organic standards threaten the integrity of all organic labels and the products of truly organic farmers.

The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR), Conservation Council of New Brunswick and Ecology Action Centre have launched a website to provide more information on the concerns associated with the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard, and how shoppers can make a difference by supporting aquaculture producers who are farming sustainably.

We recommend that you say no to organic farmed salmon.

May 10, 2012

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1 Comment

May 11, 2012
10:23 AM

This column seriously misrepresents what organic farming actually is in Canada, and cynically tries to manipulate people's opinions based on their general lack of knowledge about organic farming.

A better approach would have been to compare the actual standards, instead of using emotional language and provide links to the actual standards so people can see them for themselves.

"Organic" is not a warm fuzzy feeling about what we eat. It is, according to the actual Canadian standards, "a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock and people. The principal goal of organic production is to develop enterprises that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment."

Read for yourself:

How organic farmers do this depends on what they are farming, what feed sources are available to them and the economic sustainability of their operations. If they can't afford to do it, they won't do it.

As well, it is important to note the word "develop." Organic farmers are always trying to find ways to improve, as technology and new feed sources and new ways of farming are discovered.

Standards are not a hurdle you jump and then collect your gold eco-label stamp for the grocery store. Good standards influence a farmer's entire production system and challenge her to do better, every day.

The same applies for organic aquaculture.

The standards revealed recently are not perfect. But they are attainable, and they do require aquaculture farmers to do much more than current practices.

However, it is important to note that in the current standards for land-based organic farming, pesticides and antibiotics ARE allowed, under certain circumstances, and so are non-organic feed sources.

The same leeway should be allowed to organic aquaculture.

In fact the standards for land-based organic farming and aquaculture are quite similar. Ignoring this similarity is irresponsible. Instead of condemning them out of an anti-aquaculture ideology, groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation should look at the good points of the standards, and work with people interested in organic aquaculture to find ways to improve and provide people with healthy organic farmed seafood.

FYI I work for Mainstream Canada, a salmon farming company in BC.

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