This email notice from the National Organic Program is a bit of damage control (it is unknown whether their email could supersede the legal notice published in the Federal Register). The Federal Register notice suggested that the only Task Force nominees that would qualify for this new panel are those with hands-on industry experience. That would’ve stacked this advisory panel, assumedly, with 100% supporters for growing “organically” without soil.
Why is this panel even necessary? Congress set up an expert, multi-stakeholder citizens advisory panel called the “National Organic Standards Board” to address questions regarding implementation of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (the enabling legislation that gave the authority to the USDA to regulate organics).
The NOSB carefully deliberated on the issue of hydroponics and aquaponics, held formal public hearings and comment periods with extensive stakeholder involvement. And when the dust settled decided that, like Europe and many other countries, that growing in water and a mix of nutrients did not equate to certified organic production.
So why is this panel necessary? Because the USDA, once again, is not respecting the authority of the NOSB, the will of Congress, and the input of the organic community in the decision-making process. They didn’t like the answer the NOSB came up with.
And why didn’t they like the answer? Probably because the powerful industry lobby group, the Organic Trade Association, and their corporate benefactors, didn’t like the answer. These kinds of industry-friendly decisions at regulatory agencies don’t occur spontaneously.
This is just like the NOP allowing 1 million laying hens on an “organic” farm, confined without outdoor access, despite the law clearly stating that continuous confinement is illegal. Just as most of what happens at the USDA, and federal government for that matter, is more sensitive to financially powerful corporate interests than family-scale farmers and consumers.
And the beat goes on,
PS: For anyone who would like to drill down on the appropriateness of organic hydroponic production, please see the white paper authored by Cornucopia staff member Dr. Linley Dixon on the subject: https://www.cornucopia.org/2015/03/hydroponics-organic/.