Organic seafood standards coming in 2015

By Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press | April 18, 2015

WASHINGTON – After more than a decade of delays, the government is moving toward allowing the sale of U.S.-raised organic fish and shellfish. But don’t expect it in the grocery store anytime soon.

The Agriculture Department says it will propose standards for the farmed organic fish this year. That means the seafood could be available in as few as two years — but only if USDA moves quickly to complete the rules and seafood companies decide to embrace them.

Organic seafood would be welcome news for the increasing number of organic shoppers — and for retailers that have profited from their higher prices. It also could help the U.S. farmed fish industry find a premium as it struggles to compete against cheaper imports.

Among the seafood that is commonly farm-raised in the United States and would be covered: salmon, tilapia, catfish, shrimp and mollusks such as mussels, oysters and clams.

The United States is “trying to play catch-up on organic aquaculture,” says Miles McEvoy, who heads up USDA’s organic program. The European Union and Canada, along with other countries, have been exporting their own organic products to the United States.

Retailer Wegmans already is selling organic seafood imported from Norway and elsewhere. Organic shoppers “skew to higher income and education which makes them extremely desirable,” says Dave Wagner, the company’s vice president of seafood merchandising.

Other retailers, such as Whole Foods, say they will wait for the U.S. rules before they sell seafood labeled organic.

It’s still unclear if U.S. standards can be successful. Many in the farmed fish industry say they expect that the requirements for fish feed may be so strict as to be financially prohibitive.

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