Have you ever noticed that, of all the seafood options at the store, none are organic? You can buy a salmon fillet fresh, frozen, farmed, wild caught, from Chile, from Alaska, sustainably certified or not, but you cannot buy a salmon fillet that is organic.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established its National Organic Program (NOP) in 2001, which covers everything from beef and chicken to vegetables to ketchup. But not seafood.
This is particularly a problem for farmed seafood considering wild caught seafood cannot be certified organic: there is no way of knowing how that animal lived and what it ate throughout its life before becoming dinner.
For aquaculture, the USDA organic certification could mean huge growth. Third party certifications such as Marine Stewardship Council and Seafood Watch have seen success in recent years as consumers demand more sustainability and transparency in their seafood. Often companies and products certified as sustainable by these organizations are in fact meeting the USDA organic standards, but don’t get the advantage of utilizing the label. As CEO of LoveTheWild explained to New Hope Network, “Our brand sells the most sustainably farmed seafood in the world, which embodies the values and standards of organic and yet gets none of the benefit of an organic label.”
According to the NHN article, sales of organic food reached $47 billion in the U.S. in 2016, and in 2017 the meat and poultry category grew to make up 18.3 percent of organic food sales. Consumers are also beginning to realize the difference between “natural” and certified organic, opting for the latter.
This growing trust and demand for organic products in the U.S. opens the door to opportunity for the aquaculture industry. If wild caught seafood cannot be certified organic yet that’s what consumers are demanding, farmed seafood will become the go-to. This also helps combat some of the misconceptions consumers have towards aquaculture. If a farmed seafood product meets all of the standards to be USDA certified organic, then it can’t possibly have the hormones, disease, or environmental degradation that some people still associate with aquaculture. Enacting USDA organic seafood standards has the ability to change perceptions as well as behavior toward farmed fish.
Further, over 90% of seafood in the United States is imported. One way to improve domestic supply is by invigorating the American aquaculture industry. While this largely starts with farmer-friendly policies, the organic label and its associated benefits could also assist in encouraging domestic and sustainable aquaculture projects as farmers realize there is a demand for it.
After nearly 20 years, we’re closer than ever. An aquaculture Working Group was formed in 2005 to develop appropriate aquaculture standards for the NOP. That process took just six months, but the guidelines were then stalled in politics for 10 years. In December 2016 they were supposed to be posted to the Federal Register for public review, but that never happened amid the chaos on the Hill. And so the organic aquaculture standards remain on the “inactive” list, perceived as low priority.
As suggested by a member of the aquaculture Working Group, letting the Secretary of Agriculture know that consumers want the proposed final rule for organic aquaculture to be published may be all it takes. Make your voice heard!