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Can a Fish Farm Be Organic? That's up for Debate

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This year, Americans are expected to buy more than $30 billion worth of organic grains, produce, coffee, wine and meats.

Some producers of farmed fish want the chance to get a cut of those profits, and retailers, who can charge a premium price for organic farmed fish, are with them. But an organic label for aquaculture is not coming easy.

For more than 10 years, the issue has been on the agenda of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program. But a planned meeting to discuss the matter in October was canceled by the federal government shutdown. Now federal officials are saying the final determination on the issue is at least six months away.

Among the groups closely eyeing the proceedings are environmentalists, who say fish farms shouldn't quality for an organic label if they rely heavily on feed that can't be verified as organic. And they cite other problems on fish farms, including pollution and disease, that make them less sustainable than the typical organic farm.

"The problem is, organic rules are based on how you treat the soil. So how do you apply that to things like seafood?" says Patty Lovera, with Food and Water Watch.

To solve the problem of fitting fish farms into the same policy as land-based farms, federal regulators are simply rewriting the rules. The NOP - with help from the National Organic Standards Board, or NOSB, and its own Aquaculture Working Group - is now developing a set of guidelines that specifically address aquaculture. They would allow up to 25 percent conventionally grown material - specifically fishmeal - in the diets of farmed fish certified as organic. The plan would be to slowly scale this amount down over the years, though critics say they doubt this process would occur.

But this seems like too much to some consumer advocates.  


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