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One year later, White House still sitting on organic aquaculture standards

The folks who write POLITICO’S Agriculture Tip Sheet were celebrating an anniversary Tuesday. Not their own, but the one-year anniversary of USDA’s proposed organic aquaculture standards being hung up in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at the White House.

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A fish farm at Dospat Dam in Bulgaria’s Rodope Mountains.

What POLITICO calls “the first ever standards for cultivation and production of organic fish and other seafood” have been held up a lot in recent years. An aquaculture working group empaneled by the National Organic Program (NOP) pitched the standards hard in its 2005 report.

The working group said that without national organic standards for organic aquaculture products, there is no regulation of organic-labeled aquaculture products.

“This situation has created confusion among both retailers and consumers because of the prohibition to use the nationally recognized USDA organic seal, and implies a lack of consistent national standards similar to other agricultural products,” the NOP report says. “The U.S. organic farming community also supports compliance with national organic standards and the high standards associated with the USDA organic seal for any food items making an organic certification claim.”

POLITICO reports that the current review by OMB has already taken twice the time the entire interagency review process is supposed to take. It also notes that Europe and Canada have organic aquaculture standards. If the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal remains stuck, aquaculture might submit to voluntary standards being pitched by some groups.

The holdup at OMB, and whether the agency will turn the organic aquaculture standards loose, are both unknowns because nobody is talking. The agency could easily be running down the clock since the current administration ends in just 156 days.

George Lockwood, who chaired the aquaculture task force and was an author of its report, told POLITICO the White House might be limiting the standards to “closed-loop” systems, meaning fish raised in land-based tanks. He said both White House and USDA officials asked a lot of questions about closed-loop and recirculating systems. The task force favors standards covering a variety of fishing methods.

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