Organic Aquatic Products
by Bob Goemans
When I look back into aquatic history, I see many inventions and new processes, e.g., undergravel filters, trickle filters, protein skimmers, powerheads, freeze-dried foods, and specialized additives to name but a few that has benefited our wet pets. And as an animal lover, I also follow happenings in the dog and cat industries where I have noticed an increasing amount of articles and advertisements focused on the benefits of 'organic' products and how they benefit the health of these animals. But I do not see the same level of attention in this area of foodstuffs or associated products being given to our wet pets!
Even though the awareness of organic foodstuffs exists throughout most of the educated world, there still remains a certain level of indifference towards the value of 'organic' products. And this presently appears true in the aquaculture, pond, and aquarium industry, where very few companies have sought to join the organic revolution and provide its benefits to those that purchase their products. This concerns me, so I've researched some of the history and present status of organic products, both for human and animal consumption.
One of the on-going issues that I've found when it comes to organic farming is that there are two sides, - as there are with most environmental and health related issues! Those that favor organic foodstuffs say they are more healthful because there are no pesticides involved in the production of the food and that not only benefits the consumer, it also benefits Mother Nature. Furthermore, there will not be any toxic pesticides finding their way into the local aquifer, streams, rivers, and/or coastal waters. And that it also preserves and enhances local topsoil, thereby ensuring the long-term quality of the soil for future farming generations. Those that disagree say that this type farming is more labor intensive, thereby reducing farming profitability and costing the end user more money.
Yet, with all the gnashing of teeth and ambiguous remarks, the sale of organic products is now a multi-billion dollar per year business in the United States and is also seeing fast growth rates in Japan and Europe. So there must be some good reasons for this growth and interest in organic foodstuffs/products! In fact, if there were no profit, I can assure everyone the organic farming issue would be dead in the water so to speak. Therefore, besides apparent profitability and a more healthful approach for us humans, Mother Nature will also be served. And in doing so, help preserve the quality of the environment for our children and grandchildren. And that alone makes it less expensive in the long haul as there should be far less toxic cleanup funds needed to rectify damaged areas in the wild! And in my opinion, a clean environment is the most precious gift we can give our children and grandchildren.
As for a little history, the move towards organic farming probably began in 1940 when British agriculturist Sir Albert Howard advocated farming without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in his book titled "An Agricultural Testament." His and the work of others led to the establishment of a magazine in 1942, now called "Organic Gardening," which was produced by researcher and publisher J. I. Rodale. It centered on educating the public about the values of organic farming. For about the next five decades state and private certification programs focused on how to label organically grown products coming from farmers.
In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act. It mandated the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) establish national standards on the methods used to grow, process, and market organic agricultured products. In 2002 the USDA fully implemented organic labeling requirements. Those to be labeled 100% Organic must contain 'only' organic ingredients. Those to be labeled Organic must contain at least 95% organic ingredients, while those having at least 70% should be labeled as Made with Organic Ingredients. And only those containing 'at least 95% organic ingredients' can carry the USDA Organic Seal on their label or in their ads.
Another major player in this area has been a group of organic producers and handlers who in 1985 established the Organic Foods Production Association of North America. It changed its name to the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in 1994 to reflect an expanded mission to include non-food sectors and personal care products. It is an instrumental player in the organic industry and is a member based business association in North America. Its mission is to encourage global sustainability through promoting and protecting the growth of a diverse organic trade and supported the passing of the Organic Foods Production Act mentioned above.
As for OTA, it sees the present day reference to organic as being how 'agricultural' products, such as food and fiber products are being grown and processed. And that organic food production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers. And, that those produced organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation, so as to maintain the integrity of the food product. And when a product is labeled "Certified Organic," it means that independent state or private organizations have verified it to be grown according to these strict standards. In fact, the certification process involves actual hand-on inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, checking their record keeping, and periodic testing of their soil and water to insure that growers are meeting all the standards.
Bottom line, organic foods are becoming available in an impressive variety, e.g., pasta, prepared sauces, frozen juices, frozen meals, milk, ice cream and frozen novelties, cereals, meat, poultry, breads, soups, chocolate, cookies, beer, wine, vodka and more. And as for other organic products, they now include bed and bath linens, tablecloths, napkins, cosmetics puffs, feminine hygiene products, and men's, women's and children's clothing in a wide variety of styles.
Hooray for organic foodstuffs/products for human consumption and other human and some pet animal uses, but both the USDA and OTA are asking, "where are the organic aquatic products?" That's a good question, especially since organic foodstuffs for cats and dogs have had an increasing presence on the pet market in the past few years. Could it be aquarists are simply not aware of any benefits that can be derived from organic products, therefore there is no demand for such products? Maybe the difference between organic and inorganic is not fully understood?
As for the difference between organic and inorganic; Organic is a substance containing carbon derived from living organisms; and, Inorganic matter is that which is not animal or vegetable, and comes from mineral sources. Now that I've got the scientific description out of the way, why should we want to use organically produced aquatic products? That's a good question and probably one that would be better answered if Mother Nature could speak our language. But she is only capable of environmentally responding to our actions, some of which are not well thought out. Nevertheless, if she does not have to deal with being overly saturated with unneeded inorganic products, she can spend more time controlling her natural pathways, as all life is carbon based. Provide her 'natural organic' products and she will favorably and more quickly respond, as these products 'fit' right into her natural pathways. And this holds true for our aquarium environments!
Okay, that may seem pretty simplistic, but it's true! And if we aquarists press aquatic companies for innovative organic products designed to enhance the natural biological processes in our aquaria, they will become more active in the research and production of these products. In fact, another 'result' of this action will be that these organically produced products 'must' be correctly labeled as noted above. Hooray for that, as labeling of some products can be quite misleading. A case in point is products that may be labeled as 'Natural Products,' which can be of a synthetically processed nature. But a Certified Organic Product 'cannot' be artificially processed. It must be blended and packaged in such a manner as to maintain itself for as long as genetically capable before use. And no artificial preservatives can be used to accomplish this. However, artificial preservatives can be used in so-called natural products. Since this difference may be somewhat confusing to the general public, nevertheless a most significant point to understand, the USDA has made it a point to clarify their definitions in their manuals.
Unfortunately, there remain many attacks on the labeling process, and in October 2005, Congress somewhat weakened the organic-labeling law despite protests from more than 325,000 consumers and 250 organic-food companies. It overturned the law ruling that barred synthetic ingredients in organic foods, however, it mostly affected only canned soups and frozen pizza. Nevertheless, requests and lobbying continue for more changes, especially in the human food consumption arena. But the path should remain clear for our wet pets, if 'aquarists' demand it!
In closing, as the selection of organic aquatic products hopefully broaden (yes there are a few) our dependence upon some inorganic products and additives will be reduced. Then our environment and that in our aquaria will be better served. Please make an effort to find companies moving towards providing organic aquatic products. And be sure these products are correctly labeled as noted above, and then spread the word to other aquarists.