Driscoll’s says that it does not grow hydroponic crops. “Containerized production is not the same production system as hydroponics, which is a water-based production system,” the company states on its website. “Driscoll’s organic supply comes from both certified in-ground production and certified containerized production.” Wholesum Harvest also uses containerized greenhouse growing methods but additionally grows in open fields in Arizona and Mexico.
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Explore This IssueApril/May 2019
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A ‘Settled Issue’
Earlier this year, USDA clarified that it considers the organic hydroponics matter to be a “settled issue.”
“Last year we issued an Organic Insider [an email newsletter] that indicated that hydroponics had been allowed since the beginning of the program and that [they] are still allowed,” Jennifer Tucker, NOP deputy administrator, told The Packer’s 2019 Global Organic Produce Expo on Feb. 1, 2019. “We consider that a settled issue.”
Explaining why some certifiers certify hydroponic operations and others do not, Tucker noted that some certifiers don’t have the administrative capacity or technical expertise in hydroponic systems. “There are some certifiers that certify hydroponics, and there are some that do not; they are all bound by a common set of regulations,” she said.
The controversy has not been limited to the U.S. Organic certification of hydroponics is not permitted in Canada, Mexico, or the European Union. In April 2018, the European Parliament voted to end the importation of hydroponically grown organic produce into the EU as well as the organic certification of hydroponically grown products within the EU. Similarly, Canada and Mexico do not allow organic certification of hydroponics and bar the import of organically certified hydroponically grown foods.
These actions “show the organic industry is not injured by banning organic certification of hydroponically grown products,” the CFS complaint states. “Organic standards for Americans should not be lesser than, and must be equivalent to, those of other countries’ organic standards. USDA should also take immediate action to follow these countries and ban organic certification of hydroponics.”
Given the Trump Administration’s expressed aversion to additional federal regulation and USDA’s longstanding hands-off approach to the issue, many observers consider it highly unlikely that hydroponically grown crops will be decertified from the organic label anytime soon.