It should not be this hard.
But that’s what happens when you try to fit a square peg into a round hole.
This is the unfortunate scenario that we have on our hands with the USDA allowing hydroponics in organic — a complete violation of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.
As first reported by The Real Organic Project, the latest controversy has to do with “organic” hydroponic blueberry operators in Florida and California spraying glyphosate on their land. After the land has been treated, the growers place a plastic tarp down on the ground and then set the hydroponic containers on top of the tarp.
Allowing this to take place is problematic on many different levels.
Aside from the fact that glyphosate is known to the State of California to cause cancer and is prohibited in organic, the plastic could become permeable from wear and tear. It could rip. Or, the containers could be exposed to glyphosate around the edges. All of these scenarios could potentially expose the organic berries, or other organic plants nearby, to this super-toxic chemical.
According to Dave Chapman, Executive Director of The Real Organic Project, he was told by the National Organic Program’s Jenny Tucker that the USDA does not consider spraying herbicides on the soil prior to inspection to be a disqualifier for organic certification.
At the recent National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in Seattle, Tucker attempted to backpedal from this admission and claimed that her statements were taken out of context.
As reported by Cornucopia, “National Organic Program officials were asked directly by both public commenters and concerned NOSB members to clarify and confirm that no operation seeking organic certification can use prohibited materials, including glyphosate, during their required three-year transition period. They refused to do so.”
“The National Organic Program seems to think that as long as a prohibited substance does not touch the plant in question, it is still compatible with organic production. Nothing was said at the NOSB meeting to alter that perception,” said Marie Burcham, an attorney and Cornucopia’s Director of Domestic Policy.
As of late, the other issue that has garnered much attention is whether hydroponic operators have to undergo a three-year transition period, a cornerstone of organic certification and something with which soil-based farmers must comply.
Again, hydroponic operators appear to have their own set of rules and are exempt from this three-year transition period, as Jenny Tucker recently confirmed to Civil Eats.
This gives hydroponic farms inherent financial and operating advantages. They are able to control and avoid weeds in ways that soil-based farmers cannot. (Not that organic consumers want their farmers using glyphosate.) Additionally, these hydroponic operators can enter the marketplace immediately, while soil-based farmers must wait three years.
These differences make it very difficult, if not impossible, for soil-based farmers to compete on price.
“They are being put out of business, and we are rapidly losing the option of fruits and vegetables being grown in the soil. Organic will soon be all factory farm milk and eggs, and hydroponic tomatoes and berries. Our food system is changing quickly and dramatically. The question is whether we can we act in time to save what we care about and what is so important to our health,” said Dave Chapman.
While larger operations may come to dominate the organic supply chain and push out small family farms who use traditional methods, the other thing that must be considered is whether the nutritional quality will suffer as well.
Even if macronutrient levels are comparable, hydroponics is grown without the microbiome, intelligence and energy of soil, which may not be measurable or fully understood by humans.
And it is precisely this rich, vital soil which makes organic what it is — an evolutionary system perfected over hundreds of millions of years and something that cannot be replicated in a bucket filled with water or coconut coir.
Having limited or no access to soil-based organic food is not a win for anyone.
The question now is: what will our industry do to stop this from happening?
From where would you rather get your organic berries? Soil-based (top) or hydroponic (bottom).
(All photos courtesy of The Real Organic Project)
Max Goldberg, Editorlivingmaxwell
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