CFS Appeals Organic Eligibility of Hydroponics
As previously reported, after disagreement with the National Organic Standards Board regarding the ability of hydroponic systems to bear the organic label, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a statement in 2018 reaffirming its policy that hydroponic operations can make organic claims if they demonstrate compliance with federal organic rules. This decision prompted the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and others to file a petition calling for the Agency to reverse course, arguing that hydroponic operations cannot be certified as organic because they do not foster soil fertility and improve the organic matter content of the soil as required under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).
USDA denied the petition in 2019, arguing that the soil fertility requirements cited by the petitioners only apply to production systems that use soil. In response, CFS and stakeholders filed a lawsuit challenging the Agency’s petition denial. On March 18, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted USDA’s motion for summary judgement and found that USDA did not err in deciding that the OFPA does not prohibit hydroponic systems from qualifying for the National Organic Program.
On October 4, 2021, CFS and stakeholders filed a brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking reversal of the district court’s ruling. In its conclusion, the brief argues that, “The district court rubberstamped an unlawful loophole in organic crop production deeply undermining its integrity. Left standing, the decision creates not only a slippery slope towards inconsistent organic standards, but a dangerous administrative law precedent.” The brief highlights the environmental benefits of farming with soil, as opposed to hydroponic systems that “simply cannot ‘foster soil fertility.’”