With the release of the new Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard, Canadian consumers can now choose certified organic farmed seafood over conventionally farmed seafood, including finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants. Some are pleased with this new organic option, but the standard isn't free from controversy.
The new Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard was developed with the Canadian General Standards Board and a stakeholder committee of industry members, consumer advocates, regulators and environmental organizations. After going through two extensive public reviews and countless changes, the new standard was published in May 2012.
Keep in mind that the new national standard does not fall under the scope of Canada's Organic Products Regulations or Canada's trade equivalencies for organic products with the United States or European Union. Also, at this time, organic aquaculture products are not allowed to carry the Canada Organic logo.
What fish can be called organic?
Under the new standard, any Canadian aquaculture products that will be labeled as organic, must be grown on farms operating in accordance with organic aquatic farming methods laid out in the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard. Like other organic facilities, organic aquatic farms will be inspected by third-party certifying body.
The organic aquaculture standard prohibits antibiotics, herbicides and genetically modified organisms. The standard also severely restricts the use parasiticides, unless a veterinary recommends them as a last course of treatment. Other issues covered by the standard include measurable requirements for practices that minimize waste, allowed feed materials and cleaning procedures.
How will organic fish be labeled?
As noted above, organic aquaculture products will not be carrying the Canada Organic logo. That said, how will consumers be able to tell if fish is organic or not? The term "organic" will be allowed on aquaculture products and will mean that an accredited certifying body has verified that the production methods meet or exceed the Canadian standard for organic aquaculture production.
The organic fish debate
With regards to the new organic seafood standard, Matthew Holmes, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association, notes, "Now we have a made-in-Canada standard that clearly and verifiable defines the environmental and husbandry requirements." Not everyone agrees that the new standard is a good idea though.
Unlike Canada, the U.S. does not have a standard for organic fish, and many think this is for good reason. Some think that organic seafood labeling will only confuse consumers and encourage people to purchase less ethical fish. For example, under the new Canada standard, wild fish cannot be labeled organic, because it's impossible to verify wild fish food sources. However, farmed fish can be labelled organic because it's simple to verify the food source.
The main issue here is that farmed fish is discouraged by many environmental groups such as Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, which notes that fish farming may do more harm than good, and SeaChoice, another group that frowns on fish farming, in particular salmon farming. Some about farmed fish sustainability.
In any case, the new standards won't affect U.S. organics, at least not yet as there's no U.S. government-approved organic seafood labeling and the new Canada label is again, not included in the Canada organic trade equivalencies. Europe does have an organic fish system in place, but many think it's as controversial (pdf) as the new Canada standards.
Current as of May 2012.