On of the alarming challenges faced by the natural food movement is the assault on the terminology and standards for “organic” labeling. There is a tremendous value to marketing products labeled as “organic”. According to industry surveys, organic food and non-food product sales grew from $1 billion in 1990 to $31.5 billion in 2011 and continues to steadily grow.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) operates the National Organic Program whose stated mission is to ensure “the integrity of USDA organic products in the U.S. and throughout the world.” Most everything you would want to know about the National Organics Program (NOP) can be found here. The USDA agents that operate the NOP are advised by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), whose job is to make recommendations on the standards for labeling products as “organic.”
One can imagine the lobbying efforts, due to the value of the marketing that occurs in Washington to affect the standards for “organic” labeling. Currently, there is an interesting irony of organic labeling when it comes to hydroponic farming. Hydroponic farming, as the name suggests, does not involve the use of any soil (soil being an inherent ingredient of organic farming). Essentially, hydroponics involves soaking the plant roots in water containing nutrients and fertilizers – soil is never involved in the process.
According to Barbara Damrosch, in a piece written last year in The Washington Post, hydroponic farmers want to get their food products labeled as “organic” because according to one supplier of hydroponic equipment, such growers can “market their produce as being organic because that will command a premium price.”
In 2010, the NOSB recommended that hydroponic food products be excluded from being labeled “organic”. The NOP has not acted on the NOSB recommendations (five years having passed) and as such, hydroponic food products continue to be labeled as “organic” without consumer knowledge.
The irony goes further in that, according to one organic advocacy group, “the vast majority of the “hydroponic organic” produce sold in this country are grown in either Mexico, Canada, or Holland. ALL THREE OF THESE COUNTRIES PROHIBIT HYDROPONICALLY PRODUCED VEGETABLES TO BE SOLD AS ORGANIC IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES. Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and 24 European countries, (including Holland, England, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, and Spain) all prohibit hydroponic vegetable production to be sold as organic in their own countries.” http://www.keepthesoilinorganic.org/#!about_us/csgz
To share your views with the USDA on this topic, you can visit their website.