Lawsuit claims USDA certified hydroponic crops as organic

Dive Brief:

  • The Cornucopia Institute has filed a formal legal complaint against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other major agribusinesses and organic certifying agents claiming there is illegal labeling and sale of hydroponically-grown produce as certified organic, according to the organic industry watchdog group.
  • Cornucopia's complaint stems from how this hydroponic produce, which is primarily imported, is grown: indoors, without soil, under artificial lighting, and on an industrial scale.
  • The industry awaits an expected decision from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in mid-November, which will determine whether hydroponic operations legally meet organic certification requirements.

Dive Insight:

Six years ago, the NOSB reaffirmed the prohibition of hydroponics and aquaponics from organic certification. The Cornucopia Institute claims the USDA certified over 100 foreign and domestic soilless operations as organic, which it says runs against the NOSB's ruling.

Cornucopia argues that this scenario puts soil-based U.S. growers at a disadvantage. Allowing imported hydroponic produce to be sold as organic creates additional competition for U.S.-based certified organic farmers, even though the imported products may not meet all of the requirements U.S. soil-based farmers have to abide by.

Competition is already heating up in domestic organic farming. Consumer and manufacturer demand for organic ingredients is surpassing the supply of U.S. organic produce, which could make imported organic produce more appealing. But unless the USDA wants consumers to lose trust in its certified organic label, the agency will need to be on the same page as NOSB and communicate to consumers why hydroponic produce falls under the organic label.

Filed Under: Manufacturing Sustainability
Top image credit: USDA