Quantcast
Food
Aqua Mechanical / Flickr

National Organic Standards Board Decrees That Hydroponic Can Be Organic

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.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Health
"From 1992 to 2016, heat killed 783 workers in the U.S. and seriously injured nearly 70,000, according to a new report on heat risks." InsideClimateNews / USDA

Protect Workers From Extreme Heat, Advocates Urge OSHA

A broad coalition of worker advocacy, public health and environmental groups on Tuesday called on the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create a workplace standard for heat stress.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Emilie Chen / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise

By Jason Bittel

The news coming out of East Africa's Virunga Mountains these days would have made the late (and legendary) conservationist Dian Fossey very happy. According to the most recent census, the mountain gorillas introduced to the world in Gorillas in the Mist, Fossey's book and the film about her work, have grown their ranks from 480 animals in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016. Add another couple hundred apes living in scattered habitats to the south, and their population as a whole totals more than 1,000. Believe it or not, this makes the mountain gorilla subspecies the only great apes known to be increasing in number.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Tjeerd Wiersma from Amsterdam, The Netherlands / CC BY 2.0

How Coca-Cola and Climate Change Created a Public Health Crisis in a Mexican Town

A lack of drinking water and a surplus of Coca-Cola are causing a public health crisis in the Mexican town of San Cristóbal de las Casas, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Some neighborhoods in the town only get running water a few times a week, so residents turn to soda, drinking more than half a gallon a day on average.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Plastic trash isn't safe for kids, whether human or bear. Kevin Morgans Wildlife Photography

Even Polar Bear Cubs Can’t Escape Plastic Pollution

By Allison Guy

Plastic bags are often stamped with an all-caps warning: This bag is not a toy. Unfortunately, polar bear moms don't have much control over their kids' playthings.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights
Sea level rise is a natural consequence of the warming of our planet. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

We Can’t Hide From Global Warming’s Consequences

Over the past few months, heat records have broken worldwide.

In early July, the temperature in Ouargla, Algeria, reached 51.3°C (124.34°F), the highest ever recorded in Africa! Temperatures in the eastern and southwestern U.S. and southeastern Canada have also hit record highs. In Montreal, people sweltered under temperatures of 36.6°C (97.88°F), the highest ever recorded there, as well as record-breaking extreme midnight heat and humidity, an unpleasant experience shared by people in Ottawa. Dozens of people have died from heat-related causes in Quebec alone.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Stacey_newman / Getty Images

More Than a Third of Schools Tested Have ‘Elevated Levels’ of Lead in Drinking Water

A troubling new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that more than a third of the nation's schools that tested their water for lead found "elevated levels" of the neurotoxin. But despite heightened concern in recent years about lead in drinking water, more than 40 percent of schools surveyed conducted no lead testing in 2016.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Bill Pugliano / Stringer / Getty Images

Can Elon Musk Fix Flint’s Water?

By Fiona E. McNeill

The Michigan community of Flint has become a byword for lead poisoning. Elon Musk recently entered the fray. He tweeted a promise to pay to fix the water in any house in Flint that had water contamination above acceptable levels set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
A researcher at Oregon State University examines creeping bentgrass. Oregon State University / Flickr / Tiffany Woods

You Need to Be Paying Attention to GMO Grass

By Dan Nosowitz

Creeping bentgrass doesn't get as much attention as other genetically modified plants. But this plant tells us an awful lot—emphasis on the "awful"—about how GMO plants are regulated and monitored.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!