Take Back Organic

The “Organic” label is valuable to farmers and eaters. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) is now certifying hydroponic operations as organic that don’t qualify under the law that created the NOP.

Hydroponic production means that the crop is grown without soil — a foundation of organic farming. Hydroponic growing practices sometimes include the use of Styrofoam and plastic, which can include flame-retardants and phthalates. It has also been reported that prohibited substances, such as synthetic herbicides (like Roundup) have been permitted immediately prior to certification of some hydro operations. This is not ‘organic’!

How we define ‘organic’ affects farmers and consumers. It either gives us a nutritious food supply or more cheap, industrial food. Tell the National Organic Program administrator of the certification standards, that if it’s not in the soil, it’s not organic.

To: Jenny Tucker Ph.D., Deputy Administrator of National Organic Program

Dear Deputy administrator Tucker,

We stand with the community of organic farmers and consumers that rely upon organic food and agriculture for not only the nutritious and clean food that it provides, but also as the solution for a sustainable future through regenerative agricultural practices. The organic farmers that pioneered the organic revolution decades ago did so in the interest of our health and that of the soil, plants, water and animals to create a system of agriculture we could pass down to the next generations.

Organic consumers understand that when they purchase organic food, it is an investment in our future, our planet and their personal health—all of which are interdependent and inseparable. “What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.” This is why so many people have chosen to eat organic food—for the promise of a hopeful future for ourselves and also Earth.

However, the currently permitted organic certification of hydroponically grown food has deceived consumers as it is not grown in the soil and in accordance with traditional—nor legally certifiable—organic practices. Consumers have come to expect and rely upon healthy food grown in the soil when they buy organic, which is based upon the regulatory framework in partnership with organic farmers in the U.S. It is disingenuous, at the very least, to allow the production and sale of food as Organic that does not meet the organic standards as championed by organic farmers and subsequently past National Organic Standards Boards and the National Organic Program.

Allowing hydroponics to be certified as organic erodes the public trust in the organic label and is a great disservice to the farmers whom we rely upon.

The Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) specifically states,

“An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.”

Hydroponically grown food—plants that receive their primary nutrients through an artificial feeding tube instead of the fertility, health and vitality of the soil—are not qualified to be certified as organic, according to the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which specifically calls for all organic food to be grown in the soil, and therefore, should not be. In addition, the lack of enforcement of the required 3-year transition period, and subsequent use of prohibited substances immediately prior to certification, is deeply concerning to organic farmers and consumers and therefore, reinforces our request.

We now urge you to use your administrative authority to protect and restore the organic standards and oversee that hydroponic production no longer be allowed to be certified organic under the USDA label. We urge the National Organic Program, in keeping with the spirit of OFPA, clarify and strengthen the organic standards to preserve and restore a system of agriculture that is vital for our health, a secure food supply and future generations.

Thank you.