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Among Other Things, "Organic" Hydroponics is a Move Away from Regenerative

(Does this look like a regenerative organic farm that we want and need? Photo courtesy of the Real Organic Project.)

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It is one of the real mysteries in our industry.

With regenerative agriculture a clear priority for nearly every single brand, why is there such widespread indifference when it comes to hydroponics being allowed in organic?

After all, there is little debate about the importance of organic farmers using their soil to capture carbon from the environment, and regenerative organic advocates are working overtime to educate politicians about this being a critical solution in the fight against climate change.

However, as each day passes, “organic” hydroponics — plants grown in plastic containers of water instead of nutrient-rich soil — continue to proliferate. And with severe consequences.

Soil-based organic farmers are having an increasingly difficult time competing against “organic” hydroponic producers, who can operate at much greater scale and do not have to manage the complexities of the soil. This unlevel playing field has and will continue to push them out of business, resulting in fewer soil-based organic farms capturing carbon from the environment.

Furthermore, consumers now have much less choice when it comes to buying soil-grown, organic produce.

“Hydroponics are the complete opposite of organic, and make no mistake about it, they are taking over organic berries and tomatoes. Also, they are now moving into organic greens,” said Dave Chapman, co-director of the Real Organic Project. “It is becoming very challenging, if not impossible, for shoppers across the country to find soil-grown, organic berries and tomatoes at a supermarket.”


When it comes to organic regulations, the law is clear.

Section 6513 b-1 of the Organic Foods Production Act 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.

Growing plants in a bucket of water has nothing to do with fostering soil fertility, but the USDA has refused to acknowledge this, primarily because of the very effective tactics of corporate lobbyists.

To combat this situation, the Center for Food Safety has taken up the legal fight against the USDA to have hydroponics banned. Additionally, when the Real Organic Project and Regenerative Organic Certified® were formed — the two most prominent add-on organic labels — the prohibition of hydroponics were cornerstone principles.

While these groups and others have long opposed hydroponics, the majority of the industry has not.

“Many companies that have nothing to do with hydroponics have supported the hydroponics invasion by their silence, and it is a kind of mutual aid among corporations. We saw it during the battles with the National Organic Standards Board. Unfortunately, the Organic Trade Association has been very supportive of hydroponics, even though they claimed they weren’t. It was very confusing,” said Dave Chapman.

“On the issue of certifying hydroponics, we have seen a large outcry from the farmers but not from the brands. Three major companies — Patagonia, Nature’s Path and Dr. Bronner’s — have joined the farmers by speaking out against the certification of hydroponics, and we are grateful. If the other organic brands stood up to join the farmers, it would be a very different outcome. When the brands say they support regenerative organic but remain silent on the certification of hydroponics, they do great damage to the organic label,” he continued.

If our industry is serious about making regenerative a priority and having soil remain as a foundational element of what organic represents, the issue of hydroponics can no longer be swept under the carpet.

The clear first step is to aggressively lobby politicians and USDA officials to have hydroponics banned in organic.

But given the uncertainty of how long that could take and the dire seriousness of this problem, the industry also needs to immediately join forces with the Real Organic Project and Regenerative Organic Certified® to both source soil-grown produce for its products and build the necessary supply chains so that soil remains the priority.

This widespread silence on hydroponics is something that the integrity of the organic seal can no longer afford.

With gratitude,

Max Goldberg, Founder

New Organic Products

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Miso Master Organic Chickpea Miso from Great Eastern Sun

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Brazil Nuts from GoodSAM

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Sweet Otter Cake Batter Blend from Chamberlain Coffee

Founded by YouTube star Emma Chamberlain, Chamberlain Coffee has introduced a limited-edition Sweet Otter Cake Batter Blend, available on the brand's website. It comes in whole bean and ground, and this organic, medium roast blend features notes of vanilla and buttercream frosting throughout with a 4/5 caffeine strength.
This Week's News Items

Weekly News Summaries

First Course
Morning Consult

With Grocery Inflation Showing No Signs of Slowing, More Consumers are Buying Less

By Emily Moquin

The share of grocery shoppers who said they often purchased fewer items to save on their grocery bills climbed from 15% in October 2021 to 24% last month.

North Bay Business Journal

Sonoma County Organic Dairy Farmers Face Uncertain Future

By Cheryl Sarfaty

In the last few months alone, five dairies in Sonoma County -- five generational farm families -- have gone out of business.

FoodBev Media

Soli Organic raises nearly $125m in Series D

By Rafaela Sousa

With the funding, the company plans to open 15 farms across the nation, including high-tech facilities in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Pacific Northwest.


Whole Foods Market names Top 10 Food Trends for 2023

Yaupon-infused beverages, produce-packed pastas, repurposed pulp and climate-conscious callouts are among the food trends expected to rise in popularity in the next year.

Second Course
U.S. Rep Chellie Pingree

Politicians Urge Danone to Fulfill Commitment to Northeast Organic Dairy Farms

By Rep. Chellie Pingree

U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), along with her colleagues Peter Welch (D-VT), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) and Jared Golden (D-ME), wrote a letter to the CEOs of Danone and Danone North America, urging them to fulfill their earlier commitment to support organic dairy farms in the Northeast. To date, there has been no evidence of the promised co-investment in impacted communities.

Fast Company

The Backlash Against B Corp

By Kristin Toussaint

As ever-bigger companies seek it out, can this certification stay meaningful?

Food Business News

SunOpta sells its Sunflower and Roasted Snacks Business for $16M

By Caleb Wilson

This move will allow SunOpta to focus on its plant-based foods and beverages business, including its line of oat, almond, soy, rice, coconut and hemp-based products.


The Healing Company acquires Your Super

By Douglas Yu

The organic and Non-GMO superfoods company was purchased by the publicly-traded integrated supplements platform The Healing Company for an undisclosed amount.

Third Course
Center for Food Safety

Groups Sue EPA for Failing to Assess Real-World Harms of Pesticides

The lawsuit claims that the EPA does not review actual pesticide formulations when assessing pesticide risks.

Potato News Today

USDA Approves Reduced-Browning GMO Potato

The USDA gives the green light on another completely unnecessary and unproven GMO.

Regenerative Food Systems Investment

Propagate raises $10M Series A to Scale Agroforestry Industry

By Lauren Manning

The round was led by Belgium-based The Nest, and the money will be used to commercialize the company's agroforestry-focused software, development and financing ecosystem.

Food Navigator

Will ‘Carbon Neutral’ Claims Land Brands in Legal Hot Water?

By Elaine Watson

Even if "Carbon Neutral" claims are certified by a third party, such as the Carbon Trust, organic brands could still face class action lawsuits.

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This Week's Quick Hits

Quick Hits

* To encourage participation in upcoming elections, Forager Project has unveiled “Vote” lids on its best-selling spoonable yogurts in 10,000+ stores across the country.

* Jennifer Garner shared a celebratory 5th-anniversary video for Once Upon a Farm.

* Daily Harvest has announced its first round of grants to underserved farmers to help build a more regenerative food system.

* At Real Organic Project-certified Lady Moon Farms, success has deep roots.

* Sakara Life has launched a new science-backed program called Sakara Systems.

* Along with Harmless Harvest and MALK Organics, Erewhon has partnered with Kourtney Kardashian on the new Poosh Potion Detox Smoothie.

* How Michelob Ultra inspired U.S. farmers to go organic.

* SIMPLi has begun pre-sales for its brand new MATER Cacao Chuncho Chocolate, a partnership with MATER, the research and innovation arm of Central, the world’s No. 2 best restaurant located in Lima, Peru.

* Nisha Mary Poulose has been named the new executive director of Regenerative Rising.

* The USDA extended the comment period for the proposed Organic Animal Welfare Standards (OLPP) until November 10th.

* In case you missed these: Key Trends and Takeaways from Expo East and Top 5 Organic Products from Expo East.

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