Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

National Organic Standards Board Decrees That Hydroponic Can Be Organic

Food
Aqua Mechanical / Flickr

By Dan Nosowitz

On Nov. 1, the National Organic Standards Board finally made a decision on one of the most divisive issues in the organic world: should crops grown in water, containers, or otherwise not in the ground be allowed to call themselves organic?

The decision is thus: hydroponic and container gardens will remain eligible for organic certification.


This is a debate that's much more complicated than it seems. Hydroponics and other types of high-tech farming get a lot of attention, most of it positive, for utilizing spaces that previously couldn't house farms (abandoned factories, shipping containers, that kind of thing). They can potentially be very energy-efficient and reduce water usage. And there's rarely a need for pesticides at all, since many of these operations are indoors.

Among those pleased with the decision is the Recirculating Farms Coalition, a group of eco-conscious high-tech farmers and innovators. "By siding with current science and recognizing that existing law purposely leaves the door open for various farming methods, the NOSB is sending a critical message that sustainability and innovation are valuable in U.S. agriculture," wrote Recirculating Farms Coalition Executive Director Marianne Cufone in a release.

But many of the farmers who were behind the original push for an organic certification program are vehemently opposed, and it's not because of groups like the Recirculating Farms Coalition. Two main groups benefit from hydroponic farms being able to get organic certification (and thus charge much more for their wares): techie farmers, like those Cufone represents, and large agribusiness firms. Those firms, which include Driscoll's and Wholesum Harvest, operate gigantic hydroponic operations for their organic food, and many organic activists, like the Cornucopia Institute, see those as a cheap and easy way to charge a premium without actually doing any of the stuff the organic program is really about.

At its core, say those activists, organic food is about an entire ecosystem: taking care of the soil, recharging nutrients with crop rotation, providing for natural pollinators and pest control. It is a way for farming, which can often be ecologically destructive, to work with the planet. And massive hydroponic and container operations like Driscoll's do not do that: they are willfully separate from the environment. They do not contribute to soil health (partly because they don't use soil) nor to the overall health of the natural world. For their part, those companies say that they following the rules in terms of pesticide use and therefore should be allowed to use the label. Organic activists say this is a loophole—a way to get the big bucks an organic label can secure by follow the letter, rather than the spirit, of the law.

In some ways it's an unfortunate debate, because it pits people against each other who have many of the same goals in mind. Organic activists and small hydroponic farmers both want to grow food sustainably, at their core. But, as with most of the agricultural developments during the current administration, this decision isn't about small farmers.

It may seem like a small thing, allowing hydroponics to call themselves organic. But to many organic farmers, this is a total perversion of what the term is supposed to mean and achieve. What's the point of following all of these expensive and difficult planet-saving rules if a huge corporation can just build a factory and undercut your prices with a product that doesn't work toward the same goals?

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Deserted view of NH24 near Akshardham Temple on day nine of the 21-day nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus on April 2, 2020 in New Delhi, India. Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India is home to 21 of the world's 30 most polluted cities, but recently air pollution levels have started to drop dramatically as the second-most populated nation endures the second week of a 21-day lockdown amidst coronavirus fears, according to The Weather Channel.

Read More Show Less
A Unicef social mobilizer uses a speaker as she carries out public health awareness to prevent the spread and detect the symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus by UNICEF at Mangateen IDP camp in Juba, South Sudan on April 2. ALEX MCBRIDE / AFP / Getty Images

By Eddie Ndopu

  • South Africa is ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic in Africa.
  • Its townships are typical of high-density neighbourhoods across the continent where self-isolation will be extremely challenging.
  • The failure to eradicate extreme poverty is a threat beyond the countries in question.
Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The outside of the Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Md. on Nov. 9, 2015. Al Drago / CQ Roll Call

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of two malarial drugs to treat and prevent COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, despite only anecdotal evidence that either is proven effective in treating or slowing the progression of the disease in seriously ill patients.

Read More Show Less
Some speculate that the dissemination of the Antarctic beeches or Nothofagus moorei (seen above in Australia) dates to the time when Antarctica, Australia and South America were connected. Auscape / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

A team of scientists drilled into the ground near the South Pole to discover forest and fossils from the Cretaceous nearly 90 million years ago, which is the time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, as the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less
The recovery of elephant seals is one of the "signs of hope" that scientists say show the oceans can recover swiftly if we let them. NOAA / CC BY 2.0

The challenges facing the world's oceans are well known: plastic pollution could crowd out fish by 2050, and the climate crisis could wipe out coral reefs by 2100.

Read More Show Less