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Coalition of more than 40 groups sign letter urging that “USDA Organic” standards be upheld


Conservation, Organic, Food Safety, and Animal Welfare Advocates Voice Concerns in Advance of November Organic Standards Board Meeting

Washington, DC, November 1, 2007 – A coalition of concerned advocates from 44 organizations have sent a message to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), urging caution as that body considers whether or not to weaken USDA Organic Standards, it was announced today. The NOSB is meeting in late November of this year to consider the report of their Aquaculture Working Group. If acted upon, their recommendations would allow fish to carry the USDA Organic label–despite being raised under conditions that fail to meet basic USDA Organic principles.
In their letter, the groups–which collectively represent more than one million stakeholders and concerned citizens–comment on the Aquaculture Working Group’s recommendations to allow use of fishmeal from wild fish (which has the potential to carry mercury and PCBs) and open net cages (which promotes pollution from fish waste, can spread disease and parasites killing wild fish and allows escapes of farmed fish into the wild). The coalition letter to the NOSB can be found at: http://www.puresalmon.org/pdfs/nosb-letter.pdf
The co-signing organizations conclude that while the farming of herbivorous finfish may be conducted within organic regulations, farming carnivorous finfish (including salmon) in open net cage systems is an inherently flawed farming practice, incompatible with organic principles. Center for Food Safety (http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/) Legal Director Joseph Mendelson added, “Raising fish in this manner directly contradicts USDA Organic regulations; putting a USDA Organic label on these fish is like trying to force a round peg into a square hole.”
The organizations voice urgent concern regarding consumer expectations raised by use of the USDA Organic label. Urvashi Rangan, PhD, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst at Consumers Union (http://www.consumersunion.org/), stated, “Consumers deserve clear assurance that their choice of organic products supports a safer and more sustainable environment. Fish labeled as ‘organic’ that are not fed 100 percent organic feed, come from polluting open net cage systems, or that are contaminated with mercury or PCBs fall significantly short of consumer expectations and undermine the integrity of the organic label.”
The impact of open net cage aquaculture on the marine environment is of major concern. Pure Salmon Campaign (http://www.puresalmon.org/organic.html) Director Andrea Kavanagh points out that an inventory of international data reveals that open net salmon farms, whether labeled as “organic” or not, may inevitably allow escapes and the spread of sea lice and infectious diseases. She stated, “The ugly truth is that salmon farmed in open net cages pose a threat to the marine environment and public health and should never be sold as ‘organic.’ ”
In Canada, a major producer of farmed salmon for the U.S. market, research shows that sea lice from open net cage salmon farms can kill up to 95 percent of young wild salmon migrating past salmon farms on the Pacific coast. “The NOSB should not be considering standards that include production practices shown to put wild fish at risk of population collapse,” stated Shauna MacKinnon of Living Oceans Society, a member of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (http:///www.farmedanddangerous.org).
The coalition reiterates their unified support for development of organic aquaculture standards for herbivorous species that can be successfully farmed organically. They also call on the NOSB to abandon proposed regulatory changes that would allow use of non-organic, wild fish as feed and open net pen systems. “For consumers to trust the organic label, the food must be produced with methods that live up to organic principles,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch (http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/). “If the NOSB allows farmed fish that depend on a diet of wild fish or are raised in open ocean cages to be certified organic, they will fail consumers who are depending on them.”
The following organizations have signed onto the letter: Australian Marine Conservation Society ∙ Beyond Pesticides ∙ Center for Food Safety ∙ Conservation Council of New Brunswick (Canada) ∙ Consumers Union ∙ David Suzuki Foundation (British Columbia) ∙ Ecology Action Centre (Nova Scotia) ∙ Equal Exchange ∙ Florida Consumer Action Network ∙ Food and Water Watch ∙ Friends of Clayoquot Sound (British Columbia) ∙ Friends of the Earth Scotland ∙ Friends of the Oldman River (Alberta) ∙ George Strait Alliance (British Columbia) ∙ Go Wild Campaign ∙ Greenpeace Canada ∙ Greenpeace USA ∙ Gulf Restoration Network ∙ The Humane Society of the United States ∙ Institute for Fisheries Resources ∙ Living Oceans Society (British Columbia) ∙ Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association ∙ Mangrove Action Project ∙ National Cooperative Grocers Association ∙ Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association ∙ Northeast Organic Farming Association ∙ Norwegian Salmon Association (Norway) ∙ OCEANA (Chile) ∙ Organic Consumers Association ∙ The Organic Research Centre – Elm Farm (United Kingdom) ∙ Pure Salmon Campaign ∙ Raincoast Conservation Society (British Columbia) ∙ Rural Advancement Foundation International ∙ Save the Swilly (Ireland) ∙ Sierra Club (Thomaston, Maine) ∙ Sierra Club Canada ∙ Slow Food Canada (British Columbia) ∙ T. Buck Suzuki Foundation (British Columbia) ∙ Trout Unlimited ∙ Watershed Watch Salmon Society (British Columbia) ∙ Wilderness Committee (British Columbia) ∙ Wild Farm Alliance ∙ Wild Fish Conservancy ∙ Yukon Salmon Committee (Canada).
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Press contacts:
Dave Bard, Pure Salmon Campaign, 202-486-4426
Joe Mendelson, Center for Food Safety, 202-547-9359
Shauna MacKinnon, Living Oceans Society, 604-307-8091
Urvashi Rangan, Consumers Union, 914-378-2211