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Organic Certification

A. Concept

Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990. The OFPA required the USDA to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products to assure consumers that agricultural products marketed as organic meet consistent, uniform standards. The OFPA and the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations require that agricultural products labeled as organic originate from farms or handling operations certified by a state or private entity that has been accredited by USDA.

The NOP is a marketing program housed within the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. Neither the OFPA nor the NOP regulations address food safety or product nutrition.

Production and handling standards address organic crop production, wild crop harvesting, organic livestock management, and processing and handling of organic agricultural products. Organic crops are raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleumbased fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors in the case of livestock. They can be given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

The NOP regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge in organic production or handling. As a general rule, all natural (non-synthetic) substances are allowed in organic production and all synthetic substances are prohibited, unless approved by the NOP. The National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited NonSynthetic Substances maintained by the NOP and promulgated in a section of the regulations, contain the specific exceptions to the rule.

Labeling requirements for agricultural products are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in a product.

B. Current Status

After trying for three years to incorporate aquaculture under the livestock regulations and resolve inherent incompatibilities between terrestrial and aquatic animals, the National Organic Standard Board (NOSB) concluded that an independent set of standards for aquaculture was needed. This decision was advised by a group of aquaculture industry representatives and environmentalists, the Aquaculture Working Group (AWG), which continued to work on the issue. On November 19, 2008, the NOSB did recommend several limited changes to existing regulations that addressed aquaculture feeds and the use of fish oil and fish meal and related issues. Details can be found at: [

While other countries, such as those of the European Union, are moving forward rapidly with standards for organic aquaculture, the U.S. has made limited progress. The specifics of how marine fish species can be certified as organic remain unclear and consumers are currently confused about organically labeled products due to the many conflicting and misleading standards around the world. Challenges to address include: 1) the flexibility and ambiguity in the term “organic”; 2) defining appropriate practices is complicated by the variety of cultured species; 3) the difficulty in keeping pollutants out of the aquatic medium; and 4) controlling food supplies.

C. More Information

There is a great deal of information on the Internet that addresses Organic Aquaculture around the world. In the U.S., aquaculturists can begin to check the status with the following source:

National Organic Program
Agricultural Marketing Service
Web site:
Questions E-mail:

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Department of Agriculture – Aquaculture and Livestock Services
99-941 Halawa Valley Street
Aiea, Hawaiʻi 96701-5602
Phone: 808-483-7130
Fax: 808-483-7110
Web site:


Pacific Region Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Hub
2525 Correa Road, HIG 238
Honolulu, HI 96822
Phone: (808) 956-7031

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