Q: In your article on organics (October 2006 Healthletter) you make note that seafood has not met Certified Organic guidelines as of yet. Enclosed you will see that I have purchased fish from Ecuador that meets these standards. What is the legitimacy of this product?


Answer :Your question is an excellent example of how easy it is to get misled or confused by package labeling. Actually, on close inspection, it turns out that the label you enclosed with your question does not say organic. The USDA has yet to finalize certification standards for organic seafood, so the use of such a term on a seafood label would be meaningless in any case; producers are allowed to make whatever organic claims they like as long as they dont credit the USDA or use the USDAs certified organic logo. Instead, though, the package in question just says certified- not certified organic. Following a common but confusing practice in the healthy-foods industry of using terms such as certified or natural in product naming, the producer has trademarked the term Certified Wild and is using this as part of its product name.

The package goes on to promise that it contains only the finest quality wild caught Mahi Mahi. While we have no reason to doubt this particular producer, there is also no such thing as government-certified wild caught fish. Although the USDA is currently reviewing proposed standards to institute a certified organic seafood program in the future, the Organic Seafood Council (whose members include seafood producers with organic certification outside the US and producers interested in qualifying for certification) has urged the USDA that fish caught in the wild should not be considered, labeled or sold as certified organic for direct human consumption. The emphasis of future standards would instead likely be on certifying that farm-raised fish have been given only organic feed. Currently under debate is the question of whether wildcaught fish could be used as an ingredient in feeding certified-organic fish. The Organic Food Federation argues that this would be confusing because there are very few generally accepted certified traceable and sustainable sources.

For more on organic food, see the National Organic Standards Board www.ams.usda.gov/nosb and the USDA National Organic Program www.ams.usda.gov/nop.


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