Organic backers resist labeling for Alaska salmon, other seafood

Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A leading natural foods supermarket chain and a trade group have come out against certifying wild fish, including Alaska salmon, as ''organic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is developing a uniform national standard for organic foods and recently finished taking public comment on the proposed set of rules.

Whole Foods Market Inc. of Austin, Texas, the nation's biggest natural foods chain by sales with 112 stores, recently wrote to the USDA saying that ''due to the uncontrolled conditions that are inherent in wild seafood production, we believe that products from such operations should not be labeled organic or as organically processed.''

The store chain suggests that wild fish producers seek alternate certification such as the Marine Stewardship Council's ''Fish Forever'' label for seafood stocks that are sustainably managed.

The Organic Trade Association of Greenfield, Mass., also has come out against certifying ''aquatic animals'' as organic, whether wild-harvested fish or fish raised in captivity.

The Alaska seafood industry has pushed to get wild salmon included under the new standards.

But critics say wild doesn't mean organic.

Organic foods are raised and harvested under strict standards so that producers can document exactly what went into the products and whether they contacted any pollutants. Such strict monitoring is impossible for fish that migrate over thousands of miles of ocean, they say.

Honey producers also are struggling to win organic certification for basically the same reason -- no one knows exactly where the honeybees fly.

Barbara Belknap, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said Tuesday the idea of calling fish and other wild foods organic is still considered ''a very radical thing'' in the organic movement.

The good news for Alaska salmon is that Whole Foods Market already sells Alaska fish, Belknap said. If the company doesn't agree with labeling salmon organic, that's their prerogative.

Alaska salmon producers were dismayed that farmed fish might stand a better chance of being certified organic than fish from the ocean. They want a piece of the growing organic foods market that in 1999 had retail sales of about $6 billion, the USDA estimates.

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