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Coalition files lawsuit to prevent soilless agriculture from receiving organic certification

Coalition files lawsuit to prevent soilless agriculture from receiving organic certification © Réussir Fruits et Légumes

© Réussir Fruits et Légumes

 

The US Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit with a coalition of organic farms and stakeholders challenging the US Department of Agriculture’s decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic. According to Planetwatch, the lawsuit contends that hydroponic operations violate organic standards because they fail to build healthy soils and asks the court to stop the USDA from allowing hydroponically-produced crops to be certified. The US is one of the few countries that will allow hydroponics to be certified organic. Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and 24 European countries all ban hydroponic vegetable production to be labelled organic. 

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the body assigned by Congress to advise the USDA, has repeatedly asked the USDA to ban organic certification of hydroponics. The NOSB recommended in 2010 that hydroponics be prohibited from organic certification. The USDA continues to ignore that recommendation. In January 2019, the Center for Food Safety filed a legal petition asking the USDA to ban hydroponics from organic certification. The USDA denied the request that same year.

The lawsuit claims that denying the petition violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Organic Foods Production Act, which requires farmers to build soil fertility to obtain organic certification. Hydroponic crops are grown without soil using water-based nutrient solutions. Synthetic salts are the most common nutrients used in hydroponics, and most of them are not allowed in products certified organic.

“Healthy soil is the foundation of organic farming,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. “Organic farmers and consumers believe that the Organic label means not just growing food in soil, but improving the fertility of that soil. USDA’s loophole for corporate hydroponics to be sold under the Organic label guts the very essence of Organic.”

The basis of organic agriculture is to feed the soil, not the plant. Dave Chapman of Long Wind Farm told Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont: “Organic farming is based on enhancing and cultivating the wonderful balance of the biological systems in the soil. It isn’t just about replacing chemical fertilizers with natural fertilizers.”

One of the objections to hydroponics is that it relies heavily on fertilisers. Oregon Tilth Certified Organic states that hydroponics relies on large volumes of soluble fertilisers with little nutrient cycling. Commercial hydroponic growers will rarely reveal the fertilisers they use, according to the Texas Organic Research Center. Another objection is that hydroponics use chemicals, which organic producers are prohibited from using.

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Activists sue US government over “wrongful” use of organic label

Activists sue US government over “wrongful” use of organic label

A lawsuit has been taken out by food activists and farmers in the US against the country’s government over its decision to allow hydroponic operators use the “organic” label.  The Center for Food Safety and Farmers from Maine to California state that this decision undermines the integrity” of the country’s organic food label that consumers trust and that organic farmers rely upon.

Until now, federal regulations require organic crops to be grown without pesticides or other harmful chemicals and must also foster “soil fertility”. The claimants argue that as hydroponic plants are grown with their roots in water or air and receive nutrients from solutions created by the operators, they therefore do not foster soil fertility. 

A USDA statement supports the use of hydroponic operations.

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Pegasus Agriculture: the future of hydroponics

Hydroponics Market Anticipated to Grow from $19.9 billion in 2015 to $27.3 billion in 2020

Pegasus Agriculture is one of the leading owners and operators of hydroponic farming facilities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Its office is strategically located in Dubai, U.A.E., and serves as the headquarters for its global growing and distribution network.

“With over 150 years of combined market experience, Pegasus Agriculture continues to lead the MENA region in its goal to contribute to its independent food security,” said Mahmood Almas, chairman of the group.

The group has designed different hydroponic systems adapted to every different growing region to produce during a full 12 month period. The units designed for the Middle East have a double roof system to protect the plants from the sun.

Other indoor types of farms are adapted to Nordic countries like Russia and based on large buildings of concrete, using the latest generation of LED light. This system is much cheaper than advanced Dutch glasshouses, and also more productive,” added Almas.

Omani Farm

Last year, Pegasus opened the first half of its 2 ha operation planned in Oman specialising in leafy greens. “2016 was the first summer crop, which was produced with success and we were able to control the high summer temperatures,” Almas said.

It is divided into greenhouses of 0.5 ha area each (144 by 36 m2 ). Each includes 25 to 30 production lines that are 15 m long, 2 m wide and 2.5 m high. Each production unit includes 16 crop lines; 8 on each side. The productivity is achieving a record level of 180 kg/m2 of lettuces, with production of 14 crop cycles every year.

Portugal’s Proença-a-Nova Park to supply UK market

In a meeting on 16th August, the City Council approved the transfer of designated plots to Pegasus Agriculture, with the aim of constructing hydroponic farms. The structure is expected to be completed by May 2017, and the vast majority of the subsequently farmed produce is to be destined for export, the priority target being the UK.

Pegasus plans to invest two and a half million euros (€2.5 million) per hectare of production and employ 12 people in the first phase of production (of three phases). “This new investment with other companies that today are already in the business park confirms the location’s capacity to attract new companies and thus promote employability,” said President Mayor of Proenca-a-Nova, John Wolf.

Read more fresh produce industry news from edition 145 (Sep-Oct 2016) of Eurofresh Distribution magazine online here: www.eurofresh-distribution.com/magazine/145-2016-sepoct