Orgs. Say Hydroponic Growing Methods Deserve Organic Certification

Three non-profit agricultural organizations, the Coalition for Sustainable Organics, Aquaponics Association, Western Growers Association, and one hydroponic materials supplier, the Scotts Company, LLC, filed an amicus curiae brief asking the Northern District of California to dismiss the plaintiff’s argument that goods produced using hydroponics should not be given an organic certification. They filed the brief to give an explanation of hydroponic systems and to “elucidate some of the factual and legal errors” they alleged were present in the plaintiff’s motion. 

The Center for Food Safety, along with other organizations, filed the complaint in September against the United States Department of Agriculture, saying it should exclude goods made with hydroponic systems from organic certification. The plaintiffs previously filed a petition with the USDA, which was denied, requesting that the department would specifically exclude hydroponic systems from producing foods with an organic label because they were not grown in natural soil. 

The parties involved in Friday’s filing said the brief was meant “to aid the Court in its consideration” of whether the organic certification should be given to growers using hydroponic methods under the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). They purported that if the plaintiffs prevailed in the suit it would harm growers, retailers, and consumers. They further claimed that the actual definition of organic is more complicated than where the item was grown. 

The brief said that “hydroponic methods have consistently been recognized as eligible for organic certification,” when they meet NOP requirements, since at least thirty years ago when hydroponic agriculture expanded. They claimed the plaintiffs’ argument does not adequately represent the organic certification process and how compatible hydroponics is with the NOP and the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). 

Reportedly, although the plaintiffs think hydroponically-grown foods should not be labeled organic, studies show that they have the same “quality diversity of microbiology” that soil-grown foods have.  The brief said that hydroponic growers use various methods to “establish biological activity” and “enable the breakdown of organic matter into plant-available nutrients.” 

The parties that filed the brief claimed that since consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for organic foods, taking the certification away from hydroponic farmers would significantly reduce their profits and reduce the value of efforts already made to develop hydroponics which have earned the organic level. The brief concluded saying that removal of the organic label would disincentivize farmers from investing in hydroponics and using innovative agricultural methods.