You may have seen “organic salmon” on the menu in your favorite seafood restaurant or counter. Guess what? It’s not organic, according to the USDA. It turns out that some fishmongers have been promoting their fish as organic with definitions of their own.

This week, a USDA advisory panel will consider a key element of the country’s first-ever standards for “organic” farmed fish, including salmon. The surprising news is that this standard — if adopted — could be a boon for both seafood consumers and conservation.

Salmon are carnivorous fish. It can take up to 10 pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon. So, raising more and more farmed fish means catching more and more wild fish. This is not a good idea in a time when scientists tell us our oceans and its fisheries are on the verge of collapse.

In addition, thousands of salmon are typically raised together in cramped, enclosed open-water pens and, as a result, are prone to disease and blanket the seafloor with mounds of waste, turning the benthic habitat below into a desert. In Chile, as The New York Times recently reported, farmed salmon are sometimes pumped with antibiotics as a prophylactic. These antibiotics include those banned for use in animals in the United States to limit human resistance, including the antibiotic root of Cipro, the drug used to treat anthrax.

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Luckily, the USDA’s advisory board has proffered an important recommendation: Organic farmed fish must not be fed with wild fish. If implemented, this would allow consumers to know they’re not contributing to the depletion of the world’s fisheries when they buy “organic” fish.

It doesn’t solve the other problems associated with salmon and open pen aquaculture, which may be harder nuts to crack. The advisory board will be addressing these issues in the fall. We’ll be watching the USDA process closely to see if “organic” can live up to its initial promise.

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