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How Fish Could Change What It Means for Food to Be Organic


At Troutdale Farm in Missouri, farmhand Vince Orcutt pulls out rainbow trout ready to harvest.

When it comes to organic certification, food producers must follow strict guidelines.

For an organic steak, for instance, the cow it came from has to be raised on organic feed, and the feed mix can't be produced with pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetic engineering.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering a set of rules for organic farmed fish. Several consumer groups, though, say the recommended rules don't go far enough to meet the strict standards of other organic foods.

The feed that the fish eat is at the center of the debate.

On one side of the issue: the National Organic Standards Board, a federal advisory board whose members are appointed by the secretary of agriculture. NOSB recommended guidelines for how fish can be grown organically in pens in the ocean and how much wild-caught fish can be ground up as fish meal to feed the fish.

"What the National Organic Standards Board recommended was that there would be some allowance for nonorganic fish feed that would be phased out after a 12-year period of time," says Miles McEvoy, the deputy administrator of the USDA's National Organic Program.


Many organic stakeholders, however, say an organic diet is important for organic livestock and fish.

Lisa Bunin, the organic policy director at the Center for Food Safety, says fish farmed under the recommended standards shouldn't be certified as organic, because the wild fish used in the fish meal can't be certified as organic.