Will hydroponic produce get to keep its organic certification?

Dive Brief:

  • According to an article in The Packer, a document from the National Organic Standards Board said there appears to be a consensus among members to ban produce grown using hydroponics, aeroponics or aquaponics from organic certification.
  • The issue is currently being discussed by the organization’s crops subcommittee.
  • A recommendation on the issue is expected to be made during the board's next meeting, scheduled for April 19-21 in Denver.

Dive Insight:

One of the most contentious ideas before the National Organic Standards Board at its last meeting was whether to require organic crops to be grown in soil — not hydroponically. After much discussion, the issue was tabled and sent to a subcommittee for more research.

It’s an issue that has been making plenty of news. Five months ago, the Cornucopia Institute filed a legal complaint against the USDA and other major agribusinesses and organic certifying agents claiming illegal labeling on hydroponic produce sold as certified organic. Other groups feel that when produce is not grown in soil, it is not truly organic.

Now, it looks like the NOSB will make some sort of recommendation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in two weeks. The NOSB's recommendation is nonbinding, but will strongly influence organic policy decisions made by USDA.

If the NOSB recommends banning the labeling for hydroponic-grown crops as organic, it could have devastating effects on these growers. Many rely on the higher prices that organic foods bring in and have transitioned their produce to being grown this way.

Plus, with the organic market growing monthly, and still not enough organic farmers to meet the demand, this will also create more of a problem. The global organic food market is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 14% from 2016 to 2021, according to TechSci Research. 

A decision on hydroponics could be another NOSB recommendation that could impact the wider food industry. In November, the NOSB decided carrageenan should no longer be allowed as an additive to organic food. Opponents of the controversial ingredient, which is used as an emulsifier in many products, point to scientific and anecdotal evidence that it causes digestive inflammation. However, the board made its decision based on information that there are other additives that can do a similar job. 

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Filed Under: Policy