Organic standards are production standards. The term “Organic” does not only refer to food safety or nutrition, but a set of production standards that are established and approved by a governing body - which in our case is the Organic Food Federation (OFF) - and audited by a licensed, independent certifying agency. For a fin-fish product to be classified as organic the entire lifecycle of the fish from hatch to harvest and the production process (harvesting, cleaning, processing and packing) must follow a defined set of standard regulations and inspected by an independent, licensed certifier for compliance. The defined standard is licensed by a governmental agency (in our case DEFRA / UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). The concept for organic aquaculture is to produce fish in as natural an environment and method as possible while maintaining control over the input and concurrent reduction in the level of output while maintaining the water quality and surrounding environment.
Wild fish cannot be classified as “Organic” as there is no possible way to control the fish movement, input (diet) or exposure to noxious contaminants. Wild fish may migrate through polluted waters or over-eat a particular food source in a given area (thus damaging the balance of the eco-system). In addition there is no possible way to monitor the health of the wild fish or prevent the introduction or exposure to parasites. Essentially, “Organic” is defined by the ability to control all applied input, health and output variables of the salmon. “Organic” refers to the ability to control the variables that are controllable and quantify variables that are both controllable and uncontrollable while “wild” is inherently uncontrollable.
Organic farming is framed by a legally defined set of standards and regulations with criteria that extend beyond legal requirements imposed upon the conventional industry. The conventional industry has to meet some legal requirements (for use of therapeutic agents etc.), yet are not obliged to extend any improvements or restrictions beyond those legally required and are not necessarily audited by any independent third party agency. A conventional farm may in fact extend practices far beyond the legal requirement, but those certified organic are required to do so and must be subjected to independent auditing of those requirements.
(a) Stocking density: Organic salmon farms are required to maintain stocking densities of less than 10 kg/m3. UK Animal Welfare Charity Standards (such as Freedom Foods) have defined the operating density for salmon at 15 kg/m3 for animal welfare purposes. Conventional farms my stock as high as 20 kg/m3. A benefit of lower densities is the decrease in overall environmental impact with less dry matter effluent (uneaten feed and faecal waste). At lower densities, the fish encounter far less stress which directly translates to greater overall health and reduces the necessity for prophylactic use of therapeutic agents in order to maintain health of the overall population.
(b) Feed: Organic farms can only use approved certified organic feed. The (UK) basis for certified organic feed is the re-cycling of fish protein (other than salmonid species) from human food processing. The benefit is the use of what would otherwise be waste (heads, tails and trimmings from sustainable fishery products being processed for human food). This has the direct ecological benefit in the reduction of over fishing the pelagic species commonly used in fish meal production and the added environmental benefit of re-cycling this waste to produce a sustainable feed regime. Furthermore, all vegetable matter used in (UK) Organic feed must be certified Organic and be free of any GMO and animal proteins (e.g. beef, pork, poultry or sea mammal proteins). Finally, the overall fish oil content in the fish feed cannot exceed 28%. In conventional feed the oil content may be as high as 45% in “high-energy” feeds used to accelerate the growth rate of the fish. The benefit of limiting overall fish oil content is realized on several levels. One is the ecological benefit of reducing the amount of pelagic fish used to create the additional oil and another is the potential reduction of environmental contaminants. Environmental contaminants (PCBs, Dioxins) are stored in the fat cells of all animals (including humans). Reducing the oil content in the feed reduces the possible exposure to environmental contaminants for fish consuming an organic diet. A final benefit in limiting the fish oil content in the feed is that the fish are receiving a diet that is as close to that which they would encounter in nature and as a result the fish are growing at a natural rate and will exhibit enhanced muscle development and a brighter, cleaner flavour. The (high-energy) feeds used in high intensive conventional farming will produce a market sized fish in about 20% less time.
(c) Therapeutic agents: The use of any therapeutic agents (antibiotics), are only allowed under strict veterinary prescription and may result in the loss of organic status if required. Medications are only permitted for animal welfare purposes and require authorization from the certifier prior to use and double the quarantine period post administration. The conventional industry is permitted to use therapeutic agents as prophylactic (preventative) against possible infection, which is not allowed under (UK) Organic certification.
(d) Proximity to neighbouring farms: Certified organic farms are required to be segregated from all neighbours (not limited to conventional farms). The minimum distance required is not defined in terms of miles, but within a licensed site area. Essentially an organic farm cannot be certified if it occupies a licensed site that also accommodates a conventional farm. In real terms the farms producing salmon under the Glenarm Organic label are miles from any neighbours (the direct benefit of being located in the Irish Sea), which is more than a sufficient buffer to reduce the likelihood of the transmission of disease and/or exposure to effluent from a neighbouring farm.
The Organic Food Federation (OFF) formally audits the organic site on an annual basis, where the actual day to day records and operations are reviewed and inspected. In addition outside vendors supplying feed stuffs and materials to an Organic grower are reviewed and corroborated. In between the formal audits, the (OFF) can and does conduct unannounced informal visits.
There must be some flexibility allowed in any organic system whether it is cattle, poultry or aquatic species. A prime example is the concept of “grass-fed organic beef”. Cattle are permitted to graze on grasslands that are also certified. The certifiers have very strict rules in the certification of these producing areas to ensure for example that synthetic fertilizers and pesticide applications are not applied or have not been for a considerable specific period of time. The fact remains however that a beef steer grazing on a certified pasture is feeding upon some percentage of wild plant food that is exposed to the open environment and subjected to rain that may contain a variety of environmental pollutants or contaminants. Similarly certified organic poultry is permitted to roam freely within a limited, certified space are also able to consume wild food matter that is not certified. These points of flexibility must be a part of any system not raised in a closed vacuum, yet the standards are set to limit variables that man cannot control.
The current Organic Food Federation Aquaculture standard can be downloaded off the internet at (www.orgfoodfed.com).
Retailers must handle all organic seafood products separately from conventional products. This is similar to the rules in place for certified Kosher products. In addition a retailer must display the organic products in a separate area defined by partitions that do not permit contact with conventional products. All certified Organic seafood products must display signage that contains the reference to the UK certifier. In our case that would be “Organic Certification UK 4” which refers to and links the product to the Organic Food Federation (as listed in the table above). This labelling information is required by the certifier and failure to properly identify the product accordingly may result in the loss of accreditation by the certifier. In our case, we label each container and affix identification tags on each fish and each fillet or portion. These identification labels should remain in place until the point of purchase at retail.
Glenarm Organic Salmon is accredited by the Organic Food Federation and Bio Suisse