Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Action Alert about new USDA Organic Seafood Standards

I know this is "turkey week", and I had originally planned to post up photos of the beautiful food that came in our Thanksgiving CSA share box from Tantre Farms along with an account of our first trip to a nearby farm to pick up our locally raised turkey. Instead, I feel the urge to alert my readers to some recent disturbing recommendations for seafood to be labeled as USDA-certified "organic".

On November 20, 2008 the National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) released its recommendations regarding the production methods and labeling of USDA-certified "organic" fish. There are several highly controversial rulings within their report:
- Fish may be fed food other than 100% organic feed, contrary to the gold standard needing to be met by other USDA-certified organic livestock;
- Fish meal may be used to feed farmed fish that is obtained from wild fish, which has the potential to carry mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants;
- Open net cages can be used, which permit pollution, disease and parasites from open net fish farms to flush directly into the ocean, with the potential to adversely impact wild fish populations, sustainability, and the overall health of the oceans.

I have included a copy of the letter I have written via email to the current (acting) director of the National Organic Program. It is not easy to figure out if these recommendations are already a "done deal", who is the best/correct person to receive comments, or the timetable for comments to be taking into consideration. So if I learn where to better direct feedback so that it will be "counted" and considered before finally enacting these recommendations, I will add that information in a follow-up posting.

I do include information about eating healthy fish in several FAQs on my web site. I have been concerned about healthy fish and healthy oceans in addition to my own health for years, having made my purchasing selections based on the information that I have included on my web site, thus I must admit that I was not on top of these new USDA rulings.

Both Dr. Marion Nestle and one of my brothers spurred me into action. Thanks to them and all of my readers for also caring about this issue and taking your own actions as a concerned citizen both by voting with your fork and pen (well, really your keyboard strokes). Feel free to use my letter as a template, adding in any of your own personal comments as you feel are appropriate.

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

******************

National Organic Program
Barbara Robinson, Acting Director
Deputy Administrator
USDA-AMS-TMP
Room 4008-South Building
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250-0020
Phone: (202) 720-3252
Fax: (202) 205-7808
E-mail: NOPAQSS@usda.gov


Dear Dr. Robinson,

I am extremely disappointed in the November 20 decision by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to accept the recommendations for "organic" fish production that will allow fish to carry the USDA organic label -- despite being raised under conditions that fail to meet fundamental USDA organic principles.

As a consumer and a health care professional who puts value and faith in the USDA organic label, I expect fish labeled as organic to meet the same high standards as all other USDA-certified organic products and livestock. Anything less is a disservice to the organic label and American consumers and will completely undermine both the USDA organic program and my confidence in the entire organic marketplace..

These highly controversial NOSB recommendations allow:
- Fish may be fed food other than 100% organic feed, contrary to the gold standard needing to be met by other USDA-certified organic livestock;
- Fish meal may be used to feed farmed fish that is obtained from wild fish, which has the potential to carry mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants;
- Open net cages can be used, which permit pollution, disease and parasites from open net fish farms to flush directly into the ocean, with the potential to adversely impact wild fish populations, sustainability, and the overall health of the oceans.

These dilutions of USDA's organic standards appear to simply be a marketing decision made for benefit of the aqua-culture industry that needs to "rush to market" a product that is not really fully developed, i.e., an industry looking for a way to quickly take advantage of and realize a profit from consumers who have come to associate the USDA organic standard with a production process that puts a high premium on both the quality of a product and the health of our planet.

At this point, if these weakened standards are actually enacted, I will not purchase or recommend any fish labeled as USDA-certified organic. I will continue to personally purchase and professionally advise (via my book, website, blog, and public speaking) only those fish as reviewed and recommended by organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program.

I urge you to ensure that the USDA's organic label continues to have integrity and is used only on food produced according to the highest environmental standards. Fish labeled as organic should not be raised on non-organic feed nor in facilities that release waste into the environment. Please stop this very wrong decision from being enacted.

Sincerely,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

4 comments:

lookinout said...

It's so nice to see a well-worded letter & argument. As a Cdn, I can only stand on the sidelines. I think that Canada is behind on this.
Gillian

Diana Dyer, MS, RD said...

Gillian,
Thanks for your support. Here is a web site where you can keep up with the organic food issues in Canada.
http://organicconsumers.org/canada/index.cfm
Diana

Anonymous said...

I have sent my letter!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I didn't know about this, Diana. I'm very grateful to have the information and will write once Thanksgiving is over (we're a little busy at this very moment!)