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NOSB: Hydroponic and aquaponics are USDA Organic

On November 1, 2017, thousands of farmers nationwide waited to hear if the National Organics Standards Board, an advisory body to the USDA, would decide that hydroponic and aquaponic farms could remain eligible for the USDA Organic certification – a process which allows products from these farms to carry the USDA Organic label.

For years, hydro and aquaponic farms have been certified as USDA Organic. But recently, this certification has been up for discussion. Ultimately, a majority of the Board recognized that expanding the organics program to be inclusive of various types of farming promotes innovation and smart resource use.

The Executive Director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, Marianne Cufone made the following statement in response to the NOSB decision:

“We’re very pleased that the NOSB made the right decision by voting not to prohibit hydroponic and aquaponic farms from USDA Organic certification. Many products from these farms already carry a USDA Organic label and to now withdraw that would be irresponsible and confusing for consumers and farmers.

“By siding with current science and recognizing that existing law purposely leaves the door open for various farming methods, the NOSB is sending a critical message that sustainability and innovation are valuable in U.S. agriculture. These goals are at the center of the nationwide local food movement and spur growth of urban and rural farms alike, by a wide range of people. Inclusiveness is important in our food system.

“The Board did vote to prohibit use of aeroponics in USDA Organic production and indicated they would discuss what type of label hydroponic and aquaponic USDA Organic certified products would display. We will be very involved as these issues move forward.”

CSO response
“Everyone deserves organics,” stated Lee Frankel, the executive director of the Coalition for Sustainable Organics. “The members of the CSO are pleased that the majority of the members of the National Organic Standards Board rejected most of a series of proposals that would have started the process to change current US organic standards in order to revoke the certification of hundreds of growers around the world that incorporate container, hydroponic and aquaponic production tools on their organic farms and production locations.”

Frankel continued, “The ultimate impact of the proposals would have removed significant supplies of currently certified organic fresh vegetables and fruits from the market. We need more product that meets the high standards of the USDA Organic Program, not less. The most viable option to achieve this goal is to use all certified systems and scales of production, not to kick certain growing practices out of the industry. The organic industry should embrace and promote diversity rather than stifle it.”

Frankel added, “I am happy that enough members of the NOSB saw the wisdom of ensuring that organic rules do not arbitrarily discriminate against production in urban, desert, or tropical areas, nor should they exclude other systems that use containers and greenhouses. We should trust growers to make their own determination to know when growing in the soil or in containers make the most sense for the protection of the consumer and the ecology we all share.”

The members of the NOSB voted on Wednesday by a margin of 8 to 7 to reject the proposals to make Hydroponic and Aquaponic production methods prohibited practices under the USDA organic standards. In addition, the NOSB rejected the proposal by a vote of 8 to 7 to create prescriptive nitrogen ratios in other container production systems. The proposed definition of hydroponics was any system in a container (roots of a plant not in the outer crust of the Earth) that does not have at least 50 percent of the nitrogen needs of the plant in the container before planting and that no more than 20 percent of nitrogen needs are delivered through the irrigation system, watering cans or in a liquid form.

The NOSB did vote to make aeroponics a prohibited practice by a vote of 14 in favor of the ban with 1 member abstaining from the vote. This recommendation will now go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Given that the NOSB is technically a Federal Advisory Committee, the staff of the National Organic Program and other USDA officials will determine if the USDA will begin formal rulemaking to modify the existing USDA organic standards. The USDA typically will move forward with rule making or return the proposal for additional clarification. Only after a public comment period and regulatory review would the proposal convert into a regulation.

Source: Recirculating Farms Coalition / CSO
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