andrew schneider investigates

May 8, 2008

Feds ignore misused organic seafood tag

The feds aren’t protecting consumers from imported seafood wrongly called “organic,” so two leading food safety advocacy groups have asked the top law enforcement officers in every state to halt this misleading practice.

The Center for Food Safety and Food & Water Watch said it is wrong to label imports as “organic,” when there are no U.S. organic seafood standards in place.

They sent letters to the AGs in each state telling them that the USDA and the Federal Trade Commission have failed to prevent consumer deception by enforcing the few existing organic labeling laws and regulations.

The practice is a violation of the states’ consumer deception and misrepresentation laws, the groups said.

“Allowing importers to label their seafood ‘organic’ when it does not have to meet any U.S. standards is a disservice to American consumers, who have come to trust and believe in the organic label,” said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety.

“USDA’s refusal to stop importers from calling their products organic when many of them use antibiotics, parasiticides, or feed that would not be permitted under U.S. regulations is dishonest,” he said.

Three years ago, California passed a law preventing the labeling of any seafood as “organic” until federal standards are finalized and in place.

Only now is the USDA in the process of establishing organic regulations for finfish and shellfish but the process may take up to two years.

With U.S. sales of organic food dramatically increasing, an increasing amount of foreign seafood imports labeled as “organic” have appeared to take advantage of this emerging market, the organizations said.

“It is time for other states to follow California’s example and stop the abuse of the organic label on imported seafood,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

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