It’s official, hydroponic and aquaponic produce can legally be certified as organic food. A ruling that no doubt brought an immense sigh of relief from a number of already certified farms who use these methods to grow their products.

The Crops Subcommittee sent down a final formal recommendation to ban anything grown with hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic methods from being certified as organic food in September. The National Organics Standards Board, however, voted otherwise on November 1st with eight against the ban overruling seven in favor of it. An argument that has been ongoing since about 1995 finally comes to a conclusion. The USDA put an end to the debate by indicating it’s now an input-system certification because using a soil-based determination is just too complex.

hydroponics lettuce

This news is good for consumers too. Without the hydroponic or aquaponic farms already certified as organic allowed to continue supplying the market, we’d have a serious shortage of organic greens in the US. Your lettuces, and spinach, for example, are cool season crops that don’t do well as summer temperatures soar, and would become even more scarce in cold climate locations from the first frost to the last. That is, unless your only pesticide-free options offered greens already aged in excessive distance transport, or grown in container greenhouses. But those kind of growing operations were also on the line in this long-lasting organic industry battle.

Not to cause confusion, but they have banned aeroponically produced foods from organic labeling. According to Feedstuffs, hydroponic growers must use nutrients and inputs on the approved list to obtain organic certification. Naturally, aquaponic growers have to follow the same conditions, but their nutrients were always organic anyway. One of the biggest reasons to use aquaponic or hydroponic systems for food production is to get away from the use of pesticides. They have greater control over the environment and pests than a farmer growing the same thing outdoors.

Most people do not want chemicals applied to their food. Nor do they want to deal with health scares like listeria or salmonella recalls. The Crops Subcommittee asked that aquaponic farms prove that this sort of contamination can never happen with their growing method. Yet, in 2015, the New York Times reported that 7% of the organic food on the market had recalls in just a little over half the year. That’s over 300% increase in bacterial contamination recalls from the previous year. And in 2017 alone, Whole Foods lists 3 recalls of certified organic foods they carry for proven or possible listeria or salmonella contamination.

The Crops Subcommittee also recommended that aquaponic growers prove that such pathogens never occurred in their systems. Interesting. Yet, an aquaponic farm has greater control over such things than a traditional organic farmer using unfiltered, well water irrigation or situated downhill from sources of pathogens like these. As was discovered in California vineyards not long ago, what you apply to the land and your field crop can have unwanted additions due to activities in surrounding growing operations. In that particular case, the organic wines tested positive for glyphosate content.

Sure, some will continue thinking organic food must come from ground soil. But more livestock farms, like dairy operations, turn to hydroponic fodder in winter. It keeps their animals happy, healthy and producing in cold season. So, adhering to that principle may get really difficult.

And isn’t fish grown in toxin-free water safer to eat? Consider the polluted waters of today’s chemical, pesticide, and pharmaceutically enhanced rivers, lakes, and oceans. Wild-caught trout, tilapia, or salmon only sounds natural or organic, while the same fish raised in an aquaponic system is. At least, that is, as long as the grower uses no pesticides or antibiotics in raising them. But again, this is one of the very reasons for choosing to be an aquaponic farmer over a traditional organic grower.

Everyone deserves to have safe, nutritious, pesticide-free food to eat. What was once in demand only with high-end shoppers has radically changed. Thanks to spreading knowledge of farm chemical use and attributable health problems, most people realize they need more. Now, pesticide-free food grown locally is just as important for people from all walks of life and income levels. The only way to supply everyone with nutrition-rich, chemical-free organic food is having closed system growing operations in every community or region.

I, for one, thank the NOSB for doing the right thing in this situation. Not that I think we should disregard the organic food industry’s accomplishments. Still, I am really tired of having only already-deteriorating lettuce and tomatoes available in packaging labeled Product of Mexico or Grown in California, because both are thousands of miles away. And at the price of food today, who can afford to throw half of what’s in the package away upon opening it!

Maybe now that hydroponic and aquaponic lettuces have gained official approval for organic food certification, the number of closed system growers in my area will increase.

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Image courtesy of Kurman Communications.

Amber

Amber

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.
Amber