Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Public Policy Blog

Programs \ Public Policy \ Public Policy Blog

MOFGA Joins Lawsuit to Sue USDA over Organic Soil-less Loophole

Organic Farming Requires Building Healthy Soils, Not Growing Food in Sterile “Hydroponic” Operations

Organic cultivated blueberries, which are increasingly being produced hydroponically, continue to negatively impact the market for organic wild blueberries. Consumers are purchasing hydroponically produced blueberries labeled as organic.

Organic cultivated blueberries, which are increasingly being produced hydroponically, continue to negatively impact the market for organic wild blueberries. Consumers are purchasing hydroponically produced blueberries labeled as organic.

March 4, 2020

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) is part of a coalition of groups and organic producers that have filed a lawsuit challenging the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic.

We’ve been active for nearly 50 years in the creation, and implementation of strong organic standards, which are based on building healthy soil. We were involved in the writing of the Organic Food Productions Act, and our members expect the certified organic label to remain true to its intent of creating healthy food from healthy soil. The earliest organic certification programs (including MOFGA’s) based their standards on this premise.

In recent years some organic certification agencies have allowed the organic certification of crops grown in hydroponic systems, which has no soil building component and relies on fertilizer management as opposed to soil building practices to produce crops.

MOFGA joined this lawsuit to ensure the organic standards continue to maintain healthy soil as the heart of organic production and because organic farms in Maine, particularly wild blueberry producers, are being negatively impacted by this misinterpretation of the standard.

Organic cultivated blueberries, which are increasingly being produced hydroponically, continue to negatively impact the market for organic wild blueberries. Consumers are purchasing hydroponically produced blueberries labeled as organic, without knowing they were not grown in soil.

The lawsuit is not the first step in the process to address hydroponics in organic production. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which advises USDA on issues related to the organic standards, has called on USDA to prohibit organic certification of hydroponics, but USDA has taken no action on that recommendation to date. In January 2019 a legal petition requesting that USDA undertake rulemaking to disallow hydroponics in organic production was filed by the Center For Food Safety (CFS) and endorsed by MOFGA. That petition was denied and this lawsuit is the next step in the process to hold USDA accountable to the intent of the organic standards.

MOFGA has been a pioneer in the organic farming movement and an active participant in policy work to maintain strong organic standards. Products labeled as organic must adhere to rigorous standards that include an emphasis on feeding the soil instead of the crop. This holistic approach is the foundation of the organic movement and consumers trust that the organic label verifies particular practices.

While sustainable hydroponic food production may have an important place in our food system, it is misleading for consumers for these products to be labeled as organic in the marketplace, since they clearly don't meet the intent of the organic standards.

In addition to this lawsuit our work to protect the organic standards on all fronts continues. We are active participants in the National Organic Coalition and attend each National Organic Standards Board meeting. In recent years we have worked hard to close the Origin of Livestock loophole, which created an unlevel playing field for our organic dairy farmers in Maine. In 2020 we anticipate the full implementation of this rule, which brings one interpretation of the organic standards into alignment with how MOFGA’s producers have always operated and is a positive step forward.

We’ll continue to fight each day for policies that advocate for and protect organic production. Our success depends on support for our advocacy work.

Additional resources:

 

Next Article Neonicotinoids Petition
609