BIG WIN: NOSB Says Hydro and Aqua ponics are USDA Organic!

On November 1, 2017, thousands of farmers nationwide waited to hear if the National Organics Standards Board, an advisory body to the USDA, would decide that hydroponic and aquaponic farms could remain eligible for the USDA Organic certification – a process which allows products from these farms to carry the USDA Organic label.

For years, hydro and aqua ponic farms have been certified as USDA Organic. But recently, this certification has been up for discussion. Ultimately, a majority of the Board recognized that expanding the organics program to be inclusive of various types of farming promotes innovation and smart resource use. This makes good sense, especially for a planet with a changing climate, and assorted challenges in reducing use of water, energy and space. Embracing assorted forms of sustainable agriculture makes for a resilient, inclusive and stronger food system for the U.S.

Our Executive Director, Marianne Cufone made the following statement in response to the NOSB decision:

“We’re very pleased that the NOSB made the right decision by voting not to prohibit hydroponic and aquaponic farms from USDA Organic certification. Many products from these farms already carry a USDA Organic label and to now withdraw that would be irresponsible and confusing for consumers and farmers.

“By siding with current science and recognizing that existing law purposely leaves the door open for various farming methods, the NOSB is sending a critical message that sustainability and innovation are valuable in U.S. agriculture. These goals are at the center of the nationwide local food movement and spur growth of urban and rural farms alike, by a wide range of people. Inclusiveness is important in our food system.

“The Board did vote to prohibit use of aeroponics in USDA Organic production and indicated they would discuss what type of label hydroponic and aquaponic USDA Organic certified products would display. We will be very involved as these issues move forward.”

Read Marianne’s comments to the NOSB here.

Johns Hopkins: Near and Offshore Finfish Aquaculture Poses Risks

Expanding nearshore finfish farming or establishing an offshore industry in the U.S. carries significant risks to aquatic ecosystems and public health, according to a report published by researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering.

The report assesses whether an expanded industry in the US would be environmentally sound and safe based on current production practices.The research team found the major issues surrounding NOFA to be: large numbers of recent farmed fish escapes, infectious disease outbreaks on farms, development of drug resistant parasites and bacteria, persistence of veterinary drugs in the environment, fish waste causing local and regional ecosystem impacts, and dangers that could cause elevated rates of injury and death among workers.

See the full report here.

Federal Fish Farming Lawsuit Moves Forward

On September 21st commercial and recreational fishing groups, and conservation, consumer and farming organizations jointly filed their arguments in a legal brief on why the federal government cannot allow industrial aquaculture in U.S. waters. Read more here.

The new filings are notably significant, as the entire case could be won or lost on the information just submitted. The next likely steps in the suit are for the government to respond to the arguments made by the groups regarding why the government should not make this rule allowing fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico, and then for the judge to render a decision.

Urban Farms in NYC Grow More Than Food

In August, RFC’s ED Marianne Cufone visited several of our farming friends in New York City and learned about all the amazing programs happening there.

First stop was Brooklyn Grange. Atop a giant building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the farm grows across an expansive rooftop. The Grange hosts workshops, tours and events, including weddings, and has demonstration projects with chickens and bees. It is a beautiful space with 360 degree city and waters views. Their next endeavor is on the roof of the new mall in Sunset Park, across from Industrial City.

   

Next up, was spending time with Yemi Amu and the Oko Farms’ team, at their Moore Street Garden, in   Buschwick, Brooklyn. The farm practices recirculating farming through a large aquaponics system with tilapia, koi, goldfish, catfish, bluegill and even crawfish! They host amazing community events, classes, workshops and more.

 

Lastly we learned about a very unique and interesting concept in urban farming – a free floating food forage forest – Swale in the Bronx, NY! Built atop a barge that travels to piers in New York City, the farm offers educational programming and welcomes visitors to harvest herbs, fruits and vegetables for free. The program strives to strengthen stewardship of public waterways and land, while working to shift policies that will increase development of foragable urban landscapes.

If you live in or are visiting New York – don’t miss these cool edible urban green spaces!

MSC Reviews Gulf Menhaden Fishery For Label

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a private labeling enterprise that reviews fisheries worldwide for certification to their standards. Companies seeking certification for their fisheries pay a fee to the MSC for review and certification. Fisheries are rarely entirely denied the label, though some fisheries have been given conditional certification if they make certain changes or improvements. Whether the label does or does not actually represent “sustainability” in fishing, the MSC label is one of the few that consumers often recognize on seafood, in large part due to intensive outreach and marketing. Name recognition may encourage shoppers to buy MSC labeled seafood.

Over recent months, MSC has been reviewing the Gulf menhaden fishery at the request of Omega Protein. Most people are not familiar with menhaden, (aka “pogies”in the Gulf). This is because menhaden is mostly a bait and reduction fishery – meaning menhaden aren’t eaten directly by people as an entree – most are “reduced” to fish oil and fishmeal for use in pet feed, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals (like fish oil pills) among other products and some is used directly as bait for catching other fish. Menhaden is the second largest fishery by weight in the United States, with over 1 billion pounds caught annually from the Gulf of Mexico.

Menhaden have been called the “most important fish in the sea”. These small fish are critical to the ecosystem – many larger fish in the Gulf rely on them as food, as do marine mammals like dolphins, and sea birds. They also are filter feeders so they can help maintain the quality of Gulf waters.

Menhaden are caught using spotter planes and encircling nets – so anything near the school of fish – like dolphins, sharks, and other fish, might get caught and killed too when the entire school of fish is scooped up and pulled in. The unintentional catch of other marine life is called “bycatch”. The menhaden industry itself acknowledges about a 1-3 percent “bycatch” rate, which sounds like not much, but considering over a billion pounds of menhaden are pulled from the Gulf each year, that means about 1-3 million pounds of bycatch annually, along with it.

The menhaden industry in the Gulf is just two companies – so most information is considered “confidential” – people cannot get enough good information about the fishery to know whether it could be considered sustainable or not. It is therefore difficult to support any MSC certification when there is little current publicly available information to confirm it.

Also concerning, is that there is no catch cap on Gulf menhaden except in Texas state waters. So companies can catch as much of these fish as they are able. Gulf menhaden are caught mainly in Louisiana waters and the rest in Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. Menhaden are also caught in the Atlantic, where there is an annual limit. This means that companies could reach the annual catch cap in the Atlantic, and then go fish more in the Gulf.

With a current push for more aquaculture in the U.S., there may be a rise in need for menhaden to feed the farmed fish. Also, getting an MSC certification might increase sales of menhaden, and products with menhaden in them, to those who would think it is more sustainable than other sources once it has the MSC label.

We are now waiting for MSC’s decision on Gulf menhaden.

Learn more about Gulf menhaden here.