Sustain, Gotham Steak, City Hall, and Others: Misleading Salmon Descriptions
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This feeling of sustainability all comes at a high price. Main entrées for dinner range from $18 to $30, a hefty cost for peace of mind.
But there's one item on the detailed menu that stirs up concern: the misleading salmon description. The dish described as "grilled organic Irish salmon" at Sustain lures diners to pay the listed $25 for the entrée because it's organic. The truth is, though, it isn't organic, at least in the United States. The USDA does not have established standards for organic seafood, and the description of "organic" salmon is an unregulated term in this country.
If you're dining at a restaurant that charges more than $20 for an entrée, chances are the salmon on the menu will have some sort of description attached to it. Like the "organic Irish" description at Sustain, origins of salmon are generally added to menus, denoting whether it comes from a specific location such as the Atlantic or the Pacific. What most diners don't know is that these origins are actually misleading, ambiguous labels. And if you are paying more than $20 for an entrée, there should be nothing misleading about whether the salmon on your plate was farmed or wild.
These misleading descriptions are not allowed in grocery stores. Congress instructed the USDA to develop rules for mandatory country-of-origin labeling on seafood in 2002 (COOL), which applies to major retailers and purveyors. It includes the labeling of whether fish is farmed or wild. But COOL, unfortunately, does not apply to restaurants.
Alex Piñero, the executive chef of Sustain, is aware the salmon is not certified organic in the United States. Piñero explains he opts for this particular salmon because it's superior to other varieties available. He adds it is certified in Europe. "If I can't get something local, I prefer to opt for organic," he says.
When a fish is labeled "organic" in the United States, it means companies are applying the organic guidelines for livestock to aquaculture and fish farms. For livestock, these regulations include clean, sustainable growing environments and organic feed. Most important, though, it means that if you are paying top dollar for so-called organic fish, you are trusting the purveyor to farm fish responsibly. It is not yet regulated by American law.
Piñero believes Sustain's salmon is raised properly, because the fish are kept in large pens and fed natural foods.
Note that Piñero believes this salmon is raised properly. This word says it all. "Organic" fish is farmed. It is not caught in the wild.