Hydroponic farm growing leafy greens indoors
Image credit: Sukarman ST / iStock

Brief: US federal court rules that hydroponic produce can be certified organic

March 25, 2021

  • The US District Court for Northern California has ruled that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) can continue to certify hydroponic farming operations as eligible for the National Organic Program (NOP), the regulatory framework that governs the production and sale of ‘organic’ foods in the US.
  • Representing several soil-based organic farmers, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) had petitioned the USDA to cease its certification of hydroponic operations. The CFS asked the courts to review the matter after the USDA denied this request.
  • “This case stems from an ongoing debate about whether hydroponics, a form of soil-less agriculture, may be certified organic,” wrote Chief Judge Richard Seeborg. “[The] USDA’s denial of the rulemaking petition reasonably concluded the applicable statutory scheme does not exclude hydroponics.”

Why it matters:

The Coalition for Sustainable Organics (CSO) — which claims to represent “environmentally and socially responsible growers committed to maintaining the USDA’s current high standards for certifying organic produce” — described the court’s decision as “a major victory for producers and consumers.”

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“Our membership believes that everyone deserves organic. The court preserves historically important supplies of [fruits and vegetables] that are frequently grown using containers or other hydroponic organic systems,” CSO executive director Lee Frankel told Food Safety News.

“In addition, the lawsuit threatened the nursery industry that provides many of the seedlings used by organic growers planting both in open fields as well as greenhouses.”

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