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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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Nature Green, organic shiitake producer from Ukraine

Nature Green, organic shiitake producer from Ukraine
© Nature Green

 

Nature Green has recently established in Ukraine, in order to grow organic Shiitake mushrooms. “From the beginning, we have been focused on the production of premium quality organic mushrooms,” said Peter Sutherland, Sales Manager.

“We make our own first-class substrate in house to keep a consistent high-quality harvest, to do this we use the best organic raw materials, advanced techniques and cutting-edge equipment in our facility.” The production is certified with Organic Standards & Global Gap, ISO 22000:2005 and 9001:2015.

Currently they supply shiitake to the local market and export to Europe. The farm is located in a great location the city of Uzhhorod, situated on the western border of Ukraine to the Hungarian, Slovakian & Polish borders. This allows them to efficiently deliver freshness in their mushrooms, they can have delivery’s in any European country within 2 to 4 days.

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Record number of US organic producers

Its new Organic Integrity Database will provide data for market research, enable stakeholders to identify market opportunities and make supply chain connections, support international verification of operator status to facilitate trade, and establish technology connections with certifiers to share more accurate and timely data, the USDA said.

The number of domestic certified organic operations in the United States rose almost 12% between 2014 and 2015.

This represents the highest growth rate since 2008 and an increase of nearly 300% since the count began in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and based on data released by its Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP).

The total retail market for organic products in the US is now valued at more than $39 billion and over $75 billion worldwide, the USDA said.

And according to new data, there are now 21,781 certified organic operations in the US and 31,160 around the world.

The significant increase in the number of certified organic operations continues the trend of double digit growth in the organic sector, the USDA said.

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack listed organic food as one of the fasting growing segments of American agriculture. “As consumer demand for organic products continues to grow, the USDA organic seal has become a leading global standard,” he said.

The USDA said it is helping make organic certification more “accessible, attainable, and affordable through a ‘Sound and Sensible’ approach…streamlining the certification process, focusing on enforcement and working with farmers and processors to correct small issues before they become larger ones.”

Resources help identify market opportunities

Among relevant USDA resources are the site www.usda.gov/organic, while the data referred to above is publicly available as part of the recently launched Organic Integrity Database, which tracks certified organic operations.

The database allows organic certifiers to add new operations and report changes to existing operations at any time, allowing USDA to report updated counts of certified organic operations throughout the year. “The modernized system will provide data for market research, enable stakeholders to identify market opportunities and make supply chain connections, support international verification of operator status to facilitate trade, and establish technology connections with certifiers to share more accurate and timely data,” the USDA said.

Additional information about USDA resources and support for the organic sector is available on the USDA Organics Resource page.

Consumers also like local food

Along with demand for organics, consumers are increasingly asking for local foods, the USDA said, saying it has “supported providing consumers a stronger connection to their food with more than $1 billion in investments to over 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects since between 2009. Industry data estimates that U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008.”

Image of partial search results using the USDA’s Organic Integrity Database