Hydroponic Farming Faces Ban on Organic Certification

hydroponic farming
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The validity of the organic status of hydroponic farming will be addressed at the National Organic Standards Board meeting in Denver this week. The hydroponic farming issue represents the most “apt” divide in the organic industry today, according to The Cornucopia Institute.

“Few beyond the hydroponic producers, their lobbyists, and certifiers, believe these products should actually be certified organic,” Dave Chapman, a pioneering soil-based greenhouse grower in Vermont, said in a press release. “There is no consumer outcry for hydroponics.”

An analysis conducted by the Cornucopia Institute of more than 2,000 public comments submitted to the NOSB regarding hydroponic farming substantiates these claims: almost all of the comments in favor of organic hydroponics came from people with a direct financial stake in the sector.

Materials prepared for the meeting by an NOSB subcommittee tasked with clarifying the definition of hydroponics suggest that the Board is intending to recommend that the USDA prohibit the use of hydroponics in certified organic farming, according to Food Navigator. Should this occur, the over 100 currently certified organic hydroponic facilities would lose their organic status.

Opponents of hydroponic organics cite the absence of soil as a detractor, as soil health is the key element of the organic label. Hydroponic farmers instead use liquid fertilizer and therefore do not manage or improve soil fertility as part of their work.

The NOSB already discussed the issue of organic hydroponics last fall, following an official legal complaint filed by the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. This discussion came six years after an NOSB recommendation implying that organic farming and hydroponics were contradictory in terms, in large part due to soil health.

The NOSB will also discuss other issues related to the organic industry at this meeting, such as the proposal to use biodegradable plastic mulch, the effects of which are currently unknown; the conversion of native ecosystems to organic production; the reduction of the use of dangerous copper-based pesticides; and the use of BPA in packaging.

The NOSB was first created by Congress in 1990 as a 15-member advisory panel tasked with counseling the USDA with regards to organic food and farming regulations.

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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.