Since its humble beginnings as an outgrowth of three universities in the Pacific Northwest in 1993, the Food Alliance has grown to become one of the more substantial and reliable third-party certifiers of sustainable agriculture.
Now the non-profit organization is going to sea — so to speak. For the first time, Food Alliance has certified two shellfish producers: Hog Island Oyster Company, Tomales Bay, Calif., and Taylor Shellfish Farms, Shelton, Wash. The criteria for these aquaculture operators covers fish and wildlife conservation, healthy and humane care for shellstock, shared resource management, soil and water conservation, and safe and fair working conditions, according to FA’s website.
The program covers only farmed oysters, clams, mussels geoducks. Farmers must meet standards for safe and fair working conditions, soil and water conservation and habitat protection as outlined in the group’s Shellfish Whole Farm Criteria.
“Although some approaches to shellfish production can have positive ecosystem effects, particularly in regard to water quality, consumers and commercial food buyers are increasingly concerned about aquaculture’s impacts on the environment,” said Scott Exo, FA’s executive director. “At the same time, concern for food safety in the shellfish industry is creating greater demand for transparency and traceability.”
With organizations like the Monterey Bay Aquarium already providing consumers with lists of sustainable seafood species that are safe to buy and consume, the FA effort fills a vital gap in the supply chain.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the latest (2009) figures for per-capita domestic seafood consumption declined slightly by .2 pounds, to 15.8 pounds.
Most of the seafood — 84% — consumed here is imported, and almost half of that number comes from farmed seafood, or aquaculture. According to NOAA, the domestic aquaculture industry “currently meets less than 10% of U.S. demand for seafood. Most of the U.S. aquaculture industry is catfish, with marine aquaculture products like oysters, clams, mussels and salmon supplying less than 2% of American seafood demand.”
If we can find a way to make aquaculture more appealing — there are so many issues surrounding pollution, disease of farm stock and safety, then the U.S. industry has a chance to grow. Third-party certifications like those now being offered by FA are one big step in that direction.
[Photo credit: Ximena]