• The National Organic Program (NOP) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) (Public Law 101-624, Nov. 28, 1990). The NOP works with the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to develop organic standards. More specifically, the NOSB is a Federal Advisory Board, established by OFPA, that considers and makes recommendations to the NOP on a wide range of issues involving the production, handling, and processing of organic products. (The NOSB also has special responsibilities related to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances).
  • On Wednesday, November 1, 2017, at its semi-annual meeting, the NOSB rejected a proposal to prohibit hydroponics in organic production. Now that the NOSB has voted, the next step will be for the NOSB to provide its recommendations concerning hydroponics to USDA’s NOP which will, in turn, ultimately decide whether hydroponics crops should be banned from USDA organic certification.
  • As it stands, the regulations concerning whether hydroponic crops can be certified organic have been somewhat unclear. Last year, the Cornucopia Institute filed a complaint against the USDA contending that while the NOSB previously recommended (in 2010) that hydroponics not be eligible to bear the organic seal, USDA has since permitted over 100 foreign and domestic hydroponics growers to receive USDA organic certification.
  • A number of interest groups have chimed in on this topic. For example, in a recent petition, the Cornucopia Institute contended that soil is necessary for organic crops, and that the legislative intent of the organic program did not include hydroponics. The Cornucopia Institute, along with a number of traditional organic farmers are not happy with the NOSB’s recent vote to allow hydroponically grown crops to qualify for the USDA organic seal, contending that allowing non-soil producers to label their food as organic diminishes the integrity of the organic program. Hydroponic farming companies were, of course, pleased with the recent vote.
  • Given the ongoing controversy surrounding USDA organic certification for hydroponic crops, it remains to be seen whether USDA’s NOP will ultimately issue formal standards in line with the NOSB’s recent vote.