Hydroponic ‘Organic’ Produce to Be Judged by NOSB

hydroponic organic

The National Organic Standards Board is expected to vote during its November 18th meeting on whether hydroponic organic produce is an appropriate label, following an official legal complaint filed by the Cornucopia Institute alleging that the USDA has been illegally allowing hydroponically-grown fruits and vegetables to be labeled and sold as “organic.”

“Astute consumers have turned to organics to procure fruits and vegetables for their family knowing that certified farmers do a better job of stewarding the land by nurturing the complex biological ecosystem in the soil, which creates nutrient-dense, superior food,” said Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. “Hydroponic and container systems rely on liquid fertilizers developed from conventional crops or waste products. Suggesting that they should qualify for organic labeling is a specious argument.”

The November 1 Cornucopia Institute complaint specifically targeted Driscoll’s berries and Wholesum Harvest, a major tomato, cucumber, and bell pepper producer, for their use of hydroponics, but the USDA has allowed more than one hundred other soilless operations to carry the certified organic label.

The NOSB’s vote will come six years after an NOSB recommendation that implied that organic farming and hydroponics were contradictory in terms.

“The 2010 NOSB recommendation clarified that organic farming is defined by proper soil management through tillage, crop rotation, and manuring, and therefore soil-less systems should be excluded from organic certification,” said Cornucopia’s lead scientist, Linley Dixon, PhD.

“The abundance of organisms in healthy, organically maintained soils form a biological network, an amazing and diverse ecology that is ‘the secret,’ the foundation of the success of organic farming accomplished without the need for synthetic insecticides, nematicides, fumigants, etc,” the 2010 recommendation read.

Most countries prohibit the organic certification of produce grown through hydroponic means, including 28 countries of the European Union, Mexico, Japan, and Canada.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.