CORNUCOPIA, Wis., Feb. 19, 2018 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In an affront to the farming pioneers that launched the organic movement, today a $50 billion industry, the USDA recently announced that the "certification of hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic operations is allowed under the USDA organic regulations, and has been since the National Organic Program (NOP) began."
Cheap production techniques employed by growers in Mexico, Canada, and Europe, where hydroponics cannot be labeled "organic," are crushing soil-based organic farmers in the U.S. Much of the hydroponic produce is grown without any soil in large, industrial-scale greenhouses using liquid fertilizers produced from hydrolyzed, conventional soybeans.
Federal organic regulations and their enabling legislation, the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), require careful stewardship of soil fertility as a prerequisite for certification.
"The NOP has unilaterally allowed for the certification of soil-less systems without standards, public notice, or opportunity for public comment," said The Cornucopia Institute's senior scientist, Linley Dixon, PhD. Dixon called the NOP's statement "revisionist history."
Sam Welsch, the president of the USDA-accredited certifier OneCert, responded to NOP's notice stating, "There are two parts to the NOP's lie. The first is that hydroponic operations are allowed by the regulations. The second is when that was allowed. The certification of hydroponics was not even considered an option until September 2006 when the NOP sent certifiers a survey on the topic."
The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group,has obtained numerous internal and external emails exchanged between NOP staff and certifiers questioning whether soil-based production is required. Cornucopia sent a formal request to the USDA's Office of Inspector General asking them to investigate whether officials within the agency willfully attempted to misinform the public.
Since 2005, a few organic accredited certifying agents (ACAs), catering to corporate agribusiness, have quietly certified hydroponic production systems. The largest certifier in the country, CCOF, is the predominant certifier of hydroponic operations.
The divide in the organic industry has other ACAs choosing not to certify soil-less production systems, based on their straightforward interpretation of current regulatory requirements. To date, the NOSB has never formally made recommendations for how these soil-less systems might operate within the law, as Congress required.
The Cornucopia Institute maintains scorecards rating organic brands based on their ethical approach to organic production.