USDA Sec. Perdue tours a hydroponic farm in New Hampshire
Image source: USDA, Flickr

A coalition of organic farmers, certifiers, and NGOs recently sued the USDA for denying a 2019 petition to prohibit hydroponic operations from organic certification. Plaintiffs include the Center for Food Safety (CFS), OneCert, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and some of the longest-standing organic farms in the US: Swanton Berry Farm, Full Belly Farm, Durst Organic Growers, Terra Firma Farm, Jacobs Farm del Cabo, and Long Wind Farm.

Cornucopia opposes the organic certification of all soilless production, including hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic. Long-term carbon sequestration is not possible without soil. “Organic” hydroponic operations truck in nutrients that are fed to the plants through water. Authentic organic farmers foster the relationships among plants, fungi, and the range of microbial life teeming underground.

Read Cornucopia’s report, Troubling Waters: How the USDA and Hydroponic Agribusiness Diluted Organics by Sanctioning Soil-less Growing, to find out how soilless operations came to be certified organic, despite language in the organic law requiring careful stewardship of soil fertility.

We will continue to report on this story as it unfolds.


Farmers and Nonprofits Sue Trump’s USDA Over Organic Soil-less Loophole
Center for Food Safety

Organic Farming Requires Building Healthy Soils, Not Growing Food in Sterile “Hydroponic” Operations

[On March 3], Center for Food Safety (CFS), along with a coalition of organic farms and stakeholders, filed a lawsuit challenging the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic. The lawsuit claims that hydroponic operations violate organic standards for failing to build heathy soils, and asks the Court to stop USDA from allowing hydroponically-produced crops to be sold under the USDA Organic label. The plaintiff coalition includes some of the longest-standing organic farms in the United States including Swanton Berry Farm, Full Belly Farm, Durst Organic Growers, Terra Firma Farm, Jacobs Farm del Cabo, and Long Wind Farm, in addition to organic stakeholder organizations including organic certifier OneCert and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

“Healthy soil is the foundation of organic farming,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of plaintiff Center for Food Safety, “Organic farmers and consumers believe that the Organic label means not just growing food in soil, but improving the fertility of that soil. USDA’s loophole for corporate hydroponics to be sold under the Organic label guts the very essence of ‘Organic’.”

Hydroponic operations, or “hydroponics,” describes methods of growing crops using water-based nutrient solutions without any soil. CFS’s lawsuit cites the federal Organic Foods Production Act, which requires farms to build soil fertility in order to be certified organic. Hydroponics cannot comply with federal organic standards because hydroponic crops are not grown in soil.

Read the entire article.

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