Soil Food


Earlier this year the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a new legal action demanding the Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibit hydroponic operations from its organic label.The action was endorsed by over a dozen other organic farmer, consumer, retailer, and certifying organizations, including the Organic Farmers Association, Northwest Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), PCC Community Markets, and the Cornucopia Institute.

“Mislabeling mega-hydroponic operations as ‘organic’ is contrary to the text and basic principles of the organic standard. Right now there is a pitched battle for the future of organic, and we stand with organic farmers and consumers who believe the label must retain its integrity,” said George Kimbrell, CFS legal director. 

Since the federal Certified Organic label was introduced more than twenty years ago, the organic food market has grown exponentially and is now a $60 billion industry in which multinational corporations have bought organic brands and compete with small food producers growing food using environmentally-friendly methods.

Consumers trust the organic label and pay extra for the assurance that it indicates a more healthful and environmentally-friendly way of producing the food they buy. Allowing hydroponic systems to be certified as organic undercuts the livelihood of the organic farmers whose philosophy and practices are fully grounded in sustaining the vitality of the planet.

Hydroponic producers will now recieve the benefit of the organic label without actually engaging in the regenerative practices such as biodiversity conservation and soil improvements.Their inclusion also puts many small soil-based organic farmers at an untenable economic disadvantage.

Though the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the expert body assigned by Congress to advise USDA on organic matters, recommended that the agency prohibit certification of hydroponic systems, and though Canada, Mexico and the European Parliament all prohibit organic certification of hydroponic products, the USDA had no problem issuing the certification.

“Corporate agribusiness lobbyists have been working to water down the organic standards for decades,” said Mark Kastel, Executive director of the Cornucopia Institute. “In this case, the careful stewardship of soil fertility is not only a philosophical precept, it’s codified in federal law.”