Does Hydroponic Produce Need to Be Stripped of ‘Organic’ Label? (Part 1)

Slowly but inevitably, indoor urban farms have started to take over as the new standard. From the biggest commercial farms to the tiniest of kitchen counter-top gardens, hydroponics are simply becoming a huge deal all over the world. And when it comes to the advantages of cultivating produce when using such technologically advanced systems, they are quite abundant.

But at the same time, one very important and controversial question is being asked a large number of onlookers and experts:

Could anything that has not been grown in soil be labelled and certified as organic?

More specifically, if crops are grown in artificial conditions in any indoor system, using mechanical fixings and nutrient solutions rather than soil, should they be allowed to carry the official “Certified Organic” label?

On the surface, one might think the answer should be relatively straightforward. In reality, it’s a topic of ferocious debate right now that is almost reaching boiling point within the organic farming community, both across the US and internationally. And for the time being, it does not seem like it is a debate that is going to be brought to a conclusion soon.

The USDA Comes In

In 2015, the US Department of Agriculture made the decision to make its voice heard, in an attempt to make things clear once and for all. This meant putting together a team that went by the name of the United States Organic Program’s Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force. After completing its own studies and debating the matter, the team released a report with its own recommendations and guidelines, regarding proposed standards for organic certification and any related matters. Unfortunately, the guidelines and conclusions reached in the report were far from what you would call conclusive.

As such, distress and disputes continue as a large number of farmers believe that the US government needs to prohibit the use of organic certification when crops have been produced by any method other than soil.

The main reason why the task force failed to make a conclusion is the way in which it accepted that both methods to crop cultivation could technically meet all requirements for the production of organic plants. The fact that the report didn’t take a definitive stance served to further cloud the whole topic and infuriate farmers who are convinced that alternative cultivation approaches can’t and should not be certified as organic. They believe that the position of the task force is undermining the soil-farming industry and perhaps even puts it in jeopardy.

Included in the report by the task force is a letter to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, signed by organic farming organisations representing 2.2 million individuals calling for an instant moratorium on all new hydroponic certification.

Stay tuned for the second part of our post next week!


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