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Hydroponic greenhouse.jpg Cornucopia Institute

Groups take legal action to prohibit organic hydroponics

Consumers and organic groups say hydroponic systems cannot comply with USDA’s organic standards.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a new legal action demanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibit hydroponic operations from using the organic label.

CFS said hydroponic production systems — a catch-all term that applies to food production methods that do not use soil — do not meet federal organic standards and violate organic law, which requires that organic farming include soil improvement and biodiversity conservation; hydroponic systems cannot comply with the organic standard's vital soil standards because hydroponic crops do not use soil at all.

The CFS filing was endorsed by more than a dozen other organic farmer, consumer, retailer and certifying organizations, including the Organic Farmers Assn., Northwest Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, PCC Community Markets and The Cornucopia Institute.

"Mislabeling mega-hydroponic operations as 'organic' is contrary to the text and basic principles of the organic standard. Right now, there is a pitched battle for the future of organic, and we stand with organic farmers and consumers who believe the label must retain its integrity," CFS legal director George Kimbrell said.

The groups said consumers trust the organic label and pay extra for the assurance that it indicates a more healthful and environmentally friendly way of producing the food they buy. Since the federal Certified Organic label was introduced more than 20 years ago, the organic food market has grown exponentially and is now a $60 billion industry in which multinational corporations have bought organic brands and, thus, compete with small food producers growing food using environmentally friendly methods.

"Allowing hydroponic systems to be certified as organic undercuts the livelihood of organic farmers that take great lengths to support healthy soil as the bedrock of their farms," Kate Mendenhall, director of the Organic Farmers Assn., stated. "Hydroponic producers getting the benefit of the organic label without actually doing anything to benefit the soil undermines the standard and put all soil-based organic farmers at an untenable economic disadvantage."

Organic agriculture certification has always included soil requirements such as fostering soil fertility, improving soil quality and using environmentally beneficial farming methods like proper tillage and crop rotation. “The National Organic Standards Board, the expert body assigned by Congress to advise USDA on organic matters, recommended that the agency prohibit certification of hydroponic systems, but USDA instead continues to allow hydroponics. Canada and Mexico also prohibit hydroponics from organic, and the European Parliament voted to end the organic certification of hydroponic products in April 2018,” CFS said in a statement.

TAGS: Policy
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