Hydroponics and organic farming

UK fears US decision on organic hydroponics post-Brexit

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Last week, in a bitter blow to the Keep the Soil in Organic campaign the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) of the US National Organic Program voted against the recommendation to prohibit hydroponic production from the US organic standards.

The decision raises a number of issues for organic production both in the US and in the UK and Europe. One of the IFOAM Principles of Organic Agriculture is the Principle of Ecology. This states that: Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them. In the case of crops this means that production should be based on the living soil.

These principles, wholly endorsed by ORC, are reflected in UK and EU organic standards. We believe that ecological systems feeding the soil and not the plant are fundamental to organic production. In the last few years some US organic certifying bodies have allowed organic hydroponic production to carry the USDA organic label, which has mobiised pioneer organic farmers and growers to protest against this. Despite these protests and rallies the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which comprises 15 invited representatives from industry (including organic farmers), voted narrowly to allow hydroponics.

They also voted to allow container growing and aquaponics, while outlawing aeroponic production. The EU regulation is clear and hydroponic production is outlawed and very strict rules are applied to container growing. This means that it is not possible to have equivalence between the two systems of organic certification either side of the Atlantic.

ORC Director Nic Lampkin said: “This is not organic farming or organic food. Shame on the NOP for taking this position. Now we need to go for global rejection of the US position.”

He continued, “In the short term I would hope that the organic equivalence agreement between the EU and US will stop US hydroponic products entering the EU as they are not permitted under the EU regulation.

“Of more concern is what happens when we leave the EU. Currently all the signs are that the UK will adopt the EU organic regulation and will attempt to secure bilateral equivalency agreements with the 12 countries that currently have EU agreements, on similar terms. My concern though is that when the UK tries to get bilateral agreements we may be forced to accept compromises, for example, accepting US hydroponics in return for UK organic dairy producers continuing to be able to export to the US.
At this stage there is no actual proposal for this to happen. However, this is a risk that we need to consider, especially in light of trade discussions in the future.”

Alan Schofield, chair of the Organic Growers Alliance said: “The present UK organic market has been built on the integrity of all those who grow in the soil and this is what the consumer expects when purchasing organically grown fresh produce. This (vote) is certainly a victory for those who wish to use the organic brand but not grow in the soil.”

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