The last couple of months has seen the debate heat up in the US over whether fruit and vegetables not grown in soil can be certified as organic.
In hydroponic and aquaponic systems, plants aren’t grown in soil but instead have their roots in nutrient-enriched water. Soil-based farmers argue soil is a fundamental basis of organic. Hydroponic producers don’t agree.
In the middle of the US fracas are the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2010, the NOSB recommended that hydroponic systems be ruled ineligible for organic certification because they excluded “the soil-plant ecology intrinsic to organic farming systems.” But the USDA has never acted on the board’s recommendation, allowing hydroponic producers to get organic certification.
On October 31, the Rally in the Valley saw 250 people from 67 farms in five states demonstrate in Vermont, insisting only soil-based produce could be organic.
The protest - and intensive lobbying going on behind the scenes - came in the lead up to a NOSB meeting in St Louis in November where they were due to decide whether to reverse the previous recommendation against hydroponics. The issue was picked up in US media, including front page stories in the New York Times and Boston Globe, plus stories on National Public Radio and in National Geographic.
In the end, the NOSB November 21 meeting was inconclusive, with members voting 10-4 to send the decision on whether to eliminate hydroponics in organic food production back to committee.
Dave Chapman from the “Keep the Soil in Organic” group called the lack of a commitment from the NOSB “a setback for maintaining organic standards with integrity”.
He says statements by the National Organic Programme supporting the certification of hydroponic production flew in the face of “clear language in the law (OFPA) that require organic farming to be based on the maintenance and improvement of soil fertility. The NOP support of hydro is also in direct opposition to the 2010 NOSB recommendation, as well as most world standards.”
The fight continues.