Organic Consumers Association

Congress Continues To Degrade Organic Standards, This Time It's Fish

Seafood label outrages organic advocates
Amendment tacked on war spending bill

Tuesday, April 15, 2003
2003 San Francisco Chronicle Carol Ness, Chronicle Staff Writer


First it was chicken feed. Now it's wild seafood. For the second time in
two months Congress has used maneuvers to make a major change in the
nation's organic food standards.

The latest change, proposed by Alaska Republican Sens. Ted Stevens and
Lisa Murkowski to benefit Alaska's salmon fishermen, orders the federal
government to find a way to certify wild seafood as organic.

In a ploy that outraged organic advocates, the seafood amendment was
tacked onto the hard-won repeal of the earlier change, which diluted
feed requirements for organic chickens and livestock. Both were attached
to the Iraq war spending bill that awaits President Bush's signature.

"We've been working really hard on the repeal of this bogus livestock
amendment, and we got that -- but in its place we got the fish provision
we were opposed to," said Simon Harris, Bay Area spokesman for the
Organic Consumers Association.

The seafood amendment requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to
devise a plan to certify wild-caught fish and shellfish as organic.

It has been sought for several years by Stevens and by California's
fishing industry; both see the organic label as a potent marketing tool.

The idea was turned down by the National Organic Standards Board, which
helped write the standards that took effect last October.

The organic standards are built around the idea that animals and produce
are raised in closed systems where their foods and their access to any
chemicals are controlled, explained James Riddle, board secretary. Wild
fish don't fit that framework because there's no way to know what
they've been eating or whether they've been swimming in pristine or
polluted waters, he said.

Stevens tried again during debate of last year's farm bill, and the
fishing industry was granted the right to put "wild" on labels.

Last week, with repeal of the organic feed provision on the line,
Stevens, as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, grabbed his
opportunity and played hardball: no seafood amendment, no repeal.

"I am delighted," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific
Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations in San Francisco. Under the
organic standards, he said, "Farmed fish could potentially get an
organic label but wild fish could not. I thought that was haywire."

Grader doesn't think most wild fish would be able to win organic
certification -- certainly not fish from the polluted Gulf of Mexico, or
San Francisco Bay. But testing water and fish might allow some to
qualify, he said.

It will likely take several years for any new regulations to take

Opponents, who rose up en masse against the change in the organic feed
provision, spoke out against the seafood law and looked for possible
legal challenges, but didn't immediately mobilize for repeal.

"When they come forth with a rule, then we'll get motivated again and
have to beat the rule," said Troy Phillips, aide to Rep. Sam Farr,
D-Santa Cruz, House leader of Congress' organic caucus.

While celebrating the repeal of the chicken feed measure, organic
activists said the seafood maneuver was another example of something
they'd feared when the federal government got into organic regulation --
that politicians would change the standards to benefit special

"It's great news that the feed provision was repealed," said Bob
Scowcroft of the Organic Farmers Research Foundation in Santa Cruz.
"That said, it's another attempt to amend the Organic Food Act without a
congressional hearing."

He added, referring to the Georgia congressman who pushed through the
feed change to benefit one chicken farmer in his district, "Do you think
Stevens learned something from Nathan Deal?"

E-mail Carol Ness at

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