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 ()
Sponsored

World's First Collapsible, Reusable Straw Fits Right On Your Keychain

Straws suck—literally and figuratively. Americans throw away 500 million of these single-use plastics everyday day, clogging landfills, polluting oceans and causing harm to aquatic creatures.

And while reusable straws made of bamboo or metal already exist on the market, the Santa Fe-based team at FinalStraw have invented the world's first collapsible, reusable straw you can conveniently attach to your keychain so you won't forget to bring your own when you're on the go.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
The 2018 London Marathon dropped air pollution on one street along its route by 89 percent. Kleon3 / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

London Marathon Leads to 89% Drop in Air Pollution

Global Action Plan, a non-profit organization dedicated to tackling "throw away culture" and the impact it has on humans and the planet, discovered an unexpected health benefit to running marathons.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
March For The Ocean

Why It’s Time We March for the Ocean

By Sylvia Earle & David Helvarg

We've recently seen the remarkable capacity of youth to mobilize and to inspire us with a message of change in their march against gun violence. Theirs is also a generation equipped with technologies not just to connect to each other but to better understand our blue planet in ways unimaginable even a generation ago. These include satellite tagging and following of migratory species such as whales, sharks and tuna and accessing the deep ocean with both autonomous robots and human occupied submersibles that allow us to dive into the history of our Earth.

Keep reading... Show less

Study Reveals Dangerous Antarctic Feedback Loop

A new study of the melting patterns of glaciers in Antarctica provides real-world evidence for one of the more troubling model-based climate change predictions, The Washington Post reported Monday.

The study, published April 18 in Science Advances, found that fresh water melting off of glaciers in some regions of Antarctica caused a layer of cold, fresh water to float above warmer, saltier water, both slowing ocean circulation and melting lower parts of the ice sheets.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
GE's Haliade-X 12-megawatt offshore wind turbine

World's Largest Offshore Wind Turbine Can Power 16,000 Homes

The world's largest and most powerful offshore wind turbine will test its wings at an innovative facility in northeast England.

The 12-megawatt Haliade-X, developed by GE Renewable Energy, stands 853 feet tall, or about three times the height of the Flat Iron building in New York City. Its massive rotor diameter of 722 feet is roughly the tower height of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge above water.

Keep reading... Show less
Water overflowing the Oroville dam spillover in 2017. William Croyle, California Department of Water Resources

Climate Change Could Increase 'Whiplash' Between Wet and Dry Years in California, Leading to More Disasters

California has had a rough eight years. From 2010 to 2016, it endured the worst drought in its recorded history. Then, massive rainfall in 2016 and 2017 forced 18,000 Californians to evacuate their homes as the emergency spillway of the Oroville Dam was threatened due to erosion. Summer 2017 also saw the worst wildfire in the state's history.

But research published in Nature Climate Change Monday found that, if humans don't act to halt climate change, California's recent sequence of catastrophes could become the new normal.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Pixabay

Will Scientists Develop a Zero-Waste Cell Phone?

By Marlene Cimons

How often do you swap out your old smartphone for a new one? Every two or three years? Every year? Today, phone companies make it easy with deals to trade in your old phone for the newest version. But those discarded phones are becoming a huge source of waste, with many components ending up in landfills or incinerators.

When a cell phone gets tossed, only a few materials get recycled, mostly useful metals like gold, silver, copper and palladium, which can be used in manufacturing other products. But other materials—especially fiberglass and resins—which make up the bulk of cell phones' circuit boards, often end up at sites where they can leak dangerous chemicals into our groundwater, soil and air.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
formulanone / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Federal Court: Reinstate Fines for Gas Guzzlers

By Andrea Germanos

A federal court on Monday stopped another of the Trump administration's attacks on clean air—its indefinite delay of stricter penalties for automakers producing vehicle fleets that don't meet fuel efficiency standards.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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