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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

FARMED FISH

A coalition of environmental groups and chefs has launched a campaign aimed at scrutinizing proposed organic standards for the country's farm-raised fish.

The Pure Salmon Campaign, sponsored by the advocacy group National Environmental Trust, is pressing the Department of Agriculture, which is drawing up the new standards. The government is exploring whether to grant fish farmers the coveted "organic" label if they use organic feed; largely protect their fish from hormones, pesticides and chemicals; and institute practices to keep fish from escaping into the ocean. This week the department's National Organic Standards Board is expected to issue its recommendations to the agency on the matter.

Campaign advocates question whether farm-raised salmon can ever be considered "organic" because the fish are never allowed to migrate naturally and because they eat fish meal that comes in part from wild-caught fish, a practice that can deplete ocean resources and increase the salmon's concentration of carcinogenic PCBs.

Todd Gray, executive chef of Equinox restaurant downtown, said he would be willing to buy sustainably farmed salmon but right now buys the more expensive wild salmon because it's more environmentally friendly.

"Why have I always had a problem with farmed fish?" Gray asked at a news conference last Thursday at his restaurant. "It's largely because of its unnatural environment."

But David Rideout, executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, said salmon farmers in Canada and the United States are "undergoing some very rigorous efforts and reviews" to qualify for the organic label. "To say fish farmers can't raise organic, I just don't get that."

-- Juliet Eilperin

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