from 19.04.2004 07:00
Up until Wednesday, Texas desert shrimp farmer Bart Reid sold his organic shrimp knowing he had "the blessing" of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program.
Up until Wednesday, he was right.
But that day, NOP Program Manager Richard Mathews nullified Reid's organic shrimp certification and issued an Oct. 21, 2005 deadline to use up existing supplies of labels and packaging claiming the product is certified organic under the agency's standards or face "enforcement action."
The about-face was contained in a Guidance Statement released Wednesday by the federal agency targeting not just "fish and seafood, farm-raised or wild-caught" but a host of products including dietary supplements, personal care products, fertilizers and pet foods.
Since USDA has not developed any specific standards for products in those categories, the Guidance Statement said, then they "... may not display the USDA organic seal and may not imply that they are produced or handled to the USDA NOP standards."
If there are no standards, there's no certification. And that has Reid red hot.
"My certification carries the blessing all the way up to the USDA's NOP. It took me eight months to get the market even interested and now [the USDA] is going to do this to me? They're going to devastate me," he said.
Organic food differs from conventional food in how it's grown, handled and processed. Scientists still can't prove however, that the end result is a safer, more nutritious, or even free of pesticides, product, since natural pesticides are allowed.
Reid's company, Permian Sea Shrimp Farm, raised 80,000 pounds of shrimp last June and had it certified under the USDA's National Organic Program by Florida-based Quality Certification Services. It was an industry first. No other seafood company has ventured so far into the realm of organic marketing.
Reid said he's been trying to contact QCS regarding the Guidance Statement but to no avail.
"My question is, 'what are [QCS] going to do'?" Reid said. "I'm hoping they will get on the phone to the NOP and go to bat for us."
Contacted late Friday afternoon, QCS Certification Coordinator Brian Condon, who had not seen the Guidance Statement, did not seem that concerned.
"We wouldn't have issued [the certification] if it didn't fall under NOP standards," Condon said. "[Reid's shrimp] is just like any other livestock."
Reid has his shrimp certified via guidelines for aquatic animals listed under a Livestock provision in the NOP standards. And Dr. James Riddle, vice-chair of the National Standards Organic Board, which helps develop guidelines for the organic industry, says there should be nothing wrong with that.
"[Reid's] operation was certified under livestock," he said. "Why can't an industry that follows the rule as it is written be certified?"
He said he had a call into NOP Program Manager Mathews for an answer.
OceanBoy Farms, located in Clewiston, Fla., grows white (vannamei) shrimp and is due to be certified organic this July by QCS, according to company principal Eddy Daniel. Last year, his company produced 2.5 million pounds of product.
But that most likely won't happen now. An OceanBoy representative said no company principals would be able to comment until Tuesday.
Heritage Salmon Ltd. says it will start selling its "organically-certified salmon" this summer. That product, grown in Chile, was certified by Germany-based Naturland, a USDA accredited organic certifying agency.
Still, the product can not imply it was certified under NOP standards despite Naturland's affiliation with USDA's NOP. Heritage Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ken Hirtle had not seen the Guidance Statement when contacted on Friday and did not comment.
Riddle said the new Guidance Statement "puzzles" him and "throws back the seafood industry to a pre-rule status. It's just like the wild west," he said.
He's referring to the Guidance Statement's pronouncement effectively opening up U.S. borders to any seafood product labeled as organic, just as long as it does not implicate the USDA.
"Consumers should be aware that the use of labeling terms such as "100% organic," "organic," or "made with organic ingredients" on these products may be truthful statements," the Guidance Statement read. "But these statements do not imply that the product was produced in accordance with the USDA NOP standards nor that the producer is certified under the NOP standards."
The Organic Trade Association, the largest such group in the United States, was critical of the Guidance Statement in a release it issued Friday.
"In excluding certain classes of products from eligibility for certification and USDA enforcement, this statement means that from now on, anyone ... can make an organic claim-even a certified organic claim-without meeting any standard, and USDA will not interfere," it said. "USDA does not even state that agricultural products in these product categories that are labeled organic must be certified organic according to the NOP. So the entire market appears to be unregulated."
Meanwhile, Reid has plenty of labels and packaging touting his NOP organic certification to last him through the Oct. 2005 deadline, he said.
On August 26th 2002, Naturland registered BioCentinela ( http://www.biocentinela.com ) as complying with its standards and requirements for organic shrimp production. With this certification BioCentinela joins a very restricted and quality-dedicated group of organic white shrimp producers. It is important to highlight that there are only 9 organic certified farms of white shrimp in the world and 8 in Ecuador.
Naturland was established in 1982 in Gräfelfing, near Munich, Germany. It has grown to become one of the most important organizations in the field of organic agriculture. On the global level Naturland is one of the major certifying organizations for organic produce.