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Video Interview: USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue is Asked About the Legality of Hydroponics in Organic

Last week in New York City, I had the rare opportunity to speak with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and was able to ask him about a variety of organic subjects, most of which Organic Insider has extensively covered over the past few years. As he discussed in the video above, these include:

– Hydroponics in organic  According to Section 6513 b-1 of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, it says that:

An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.

Despite this very clear language, which would appear to make hydroponics illegal in organic, the USDA announced on January 25th that “hydroponics is allowed under the USDA organic regulations and has been since the National Organic Program began.”

– Fraudulent organic grains from abroad  Countries such as Turkey and Ukraine have sent millions of pounds of fraudulent organic grains into the U.S., both ripping off American consumers and severely damaging the livelihoods of American organic farmers.

– The timing of the federal GMO-labeling bill  Congress mandated that the USDA establish GMO-labeling standards by July 29, 2018, but it did not do so. As a result, the Center for Food Safety sued the USDA for its failure to enact this law.

– Status of important organic programs, given that we have no farm bill  Since many important organic initiatives do not have permanent funding, such as the organic certification cost-share program for farmers, the lack of a farm bill puts these programs in limbo — something that the organic industry cannot afford. (Note: This interview was conducted last week, and the farm bill was not finalized by September 30th, which was Sunday night.)

I asked a handful of key industry players, all of whom know these topics well, to give me their feedback about what Secretary Sonny Perdue shared in the video above. Here is what they had to say:

“If ‘feeding the U.S. and the world’ is really Perdue’s top priority, then how is it that he continues to promote GE corn and soy, which take up more than half of U.S. cropland and directly feed almost nobody. It seems he is more interested in feeding the bottom line of Bayer/Monsanto and the other chemical companies than feeding people.”  — Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety

“In terms of the legality of ‘organic’ hydroponics, their stealthy approval in the past — without any statutory or regulatory authorization — continues to be either stonewalled or ‘spun’ by the USDA, the hydroponic industry and lobbyists at the Organic Trade Association. The Secretary refused to answer the question, which is backed up by language in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and clearly illustrates the ‘will of Congress’ that soil stewardship is a prerequisite of organic farm certification.  — Mark Kastel, Co-Founder of The Cornucopia Institute

“Your interview with Sonny Perdue mirrors what others who have met with him have expressed during the farm bill meetings and discussions. In a previous meeting with some of those people, he only made a few remarks and walked out without answering any questions, leaving USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach to put out the party line.” — John Bobbe, Executive Director of OFARM

“Secretary Perdue has not been well-served by his political advisors. They have failed to explain to him that organic farming is a 125-year-old alternative production system centered on protecting and enriching the soil. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) requires that organic farmers must ‘foster soil fertility’ and that’s what we real organic farmers do. It is absolutely impossible for soil-less, hydroponic operations to meet OFPA’s legal requirement because they don’t use soil. For USDA to continue to fail to enforce the OFPA law is illegal, and for soil-less hydroponic factory farms to use the organic label is fraudulent.” — Jim Gerritsen, Maine Certified Organic seed farmer and President of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association.

“Your interview revealed Sonny’s confusion about the most basic organic ideals. His praise for organic was totally focused on the $50 billion in annual sales, without a single mention of soil or health. In fact, he suggested that organic should be ‘just like the meat industry,’ adopting new technologies to make more money and to ‘help feed others.’ It would seem that his only criteria for what should be ‘certified organic’ is whether a new technology makes money. For me, the obvious punchline is that this man should NOT be ‘in charge’ of organic farming in America.” — Dave Chapman, certified organic tomato farmer and lead spokesperson for the Real Organic Project.

Have a great day!

Max Goldberg, Founder

This Week's News Items

Weekly News Summaries

First Course
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Boosted by the Whole Foods Acquisition, Amazon Now Captures 30% of All Online Grocery Sales

By Jacqueline Renfrow

A new report from Brick Meets Click shows how Amazon is dominating the online grocery market, yet only 11% of Amazon shoppers bought any groceries from Amazon in the past month. This means that the 30% number could go much higher.


Kroger and Walgreens Launch Pilot Program to Pick Up Groceries at the Pharmacy

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In the ever-increasing bid for convenience, Kroger and Walgreens are testing a program that would allow Walgreen's shoppers to pick up online orders of Kroger's groceries at 13 of the pharmacy's locations.

Securing Industry

Counterfeit Food in the EU Should Make the U.S. Very Concerned

With food accounting for 24% of counterfeit goods in the EU, this should make us wonder whether we have a lot more to worry about than just fraudulent organic corn and soy from abroad.

Supermarket News

FDA Seeks Input on Plant-Based Dairy and Milk Product Labels

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Is plant-based almond milk truly "milk"? The FDA is formally seeking input on this issue.

Second Course

Journal: Monsanto Did Not Fully Disclose its Involvement in Glyphosate Safety Research Paper

By Joel Rosenblatt, Peter Waldman and Lydia Mulvany

A prominent academic journal said Monsanto did not fully disclose its involvement in a published research paper that found the herbicide to be non-toxic, thereby bolstering the argument that the company ghost-wrote safety reviews.

Sustainable Pulse

An EPA Petition to Ban Pre-Harvest Glyphosate Spraying

Environmental Working Group, along with several organic brands, including Nature's Path, Stonyfield Farm, MOM’s Organic Market, One Degree Organic Foods, and Happy Family Organics, has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to sharply limit glyphosate residues allowed on oats and to prohibit the pesticide’s use as a pre-harvest drying agent.

New Hope Network

How Standards are Set at Expo West and Expo East

By Jenna Blumenfeld

An inside look at the standards team at New Hope, who holds the line as to what ingredients can and cannot be used in products at the shows.

Third Course
Progressive Grocer

Thrive Market Signs 5-Year Deal with KeHe

Thrive Market has signed a partnership with organic and natural distributor KeHe until 2023, during which it will provide category insights, supply chain expertise and access to its wide array of products.

PR Newswire

Natural Grocers Launches New Line of Private Label Organic Products

Natural Grocers has just launched its new line of organic private label products, comprised of 35 different items across 10 categories, some made with heirloom ingredients.


Evo Hemp to Source Organic Hemp Grown on Indian Reservation in South Dakota

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London's Planet Organic Gets Acquired

By Kenny Kemp

Planet Organic, a London-based chain of organic/natural grocery stores, has been purchased by Inverleith, a Scottish private equity firm.

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This Week's Quick Hits

Quick Hits

* As trade and tariff problems are hitting conventional farmers in a serious way, organic grain farmers in Ohio are not feeling a similar impact.

* It has been announced that the documentary Evolution of Organic, narrated by Frances McDormand, will be shown at both EcoFarm 2019 and the Bionutrient Food Association’s Soil & Nutrition Conference in December.

* On October 30th, Whole Foods will be releasing a cookbook. Here is a sneak peek.

* The Climate Collaborative has just put out its 2018 Tracking Progress Update.

* Food & Water Watch has launched a petition asking the National Organic Standards Board and the USDA’s National Organic Program to protect organic farms from fracking.

* Shortly after Expo West next March, ReGen 2019 will be held in San Francisco. The focus of the conference is to highlight and educate people on the economic benefits of regenerative, customer-centric business practices for people and the planet.

* Organic Valley has announced the next phase of its community solar partnership to become 100% renewably powered in 2019, and Dr. Bronner’s has committed to purchasing renewable energy credits from this solar partnership.

* Congrats to Prairie Organic Spirits for being named #1 craft vodka distillery in USA Today’s 2018 Readers’ choice awards.


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