Something fishy

Something fishy –
Action in the US to stop deceptive practice of labeling fish as “organic”

The Center for Food Safety in the United States has sent letters to the top state law enforcement officials of 49 states, urging them to take action against the misleading practice of labeling seafood imports as “organic.” The state-based effort to protect the integrity of organic food labels is a follow up to complaints filed by the Center last year with the USDA and Federal Trade Commission. To date, these federal agencies have left the complaints unanswered, while US consumers are increasingly confronted with imported seafood misleadingly labeled as “organic”, despite the fact that there are no organic seafood standards currently in place in the USA..

In the latest action, the Center for Food Safety calls upon USDA to prevent consumer deception by enforcing existing organic labeling laws and regulations until new standards are finalised. The Center, which is joined in this effort by Food & Water Watch, has identified the practice of allowing seafood to be labeled as “organic” in absence of regulations as unfair, deceptive and misleading – a violation of state consumer deception and misrepresentation laws.

“Allowing importers to label their seafood ‘organic’ when it does not have to meet any US standards is a disservice to American consumers, who have come to trust and believe in the organic label,” says Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. “USDA’s refusal to stop importers from calling their products organic when many of them use antibiotics, parasiticides, or feed that would not be permitted under US regulations is dishonest. Consumers have the right to know that the labeling on their food is truthful and accurate and we’re asking the states to protect that right.”

The USDA is currently in the process of establishing organic regulations for finfish and shellfish, a process that may take up to two years. In the middle of this month, the National Organic Standards Board will be discussing new recommendations addressing the type of feeds that may be used under future organic aquaculture standards. As currently drafted, the regulations would not allow the use of antibiotics or non-organic feed.

In 2005, California passed a law (SB 730) preventing the labeling of any seafood as “organic” until federal standards are finalised and in place.

“It is time for other states to follow California’s example and stop the abuse of the organic label on imported seafood,” says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Importers should not be allowed to market their products with claims about meeting a standard that doesn’t exist.”

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