Most of us don’t know that more and more fruits and vegetables are grown in industrial conditions, where nutrients come mainly from a solution of liquid fertilizers, and not from rich fertile soil.
Is it considered organically grown products? Or is organic farming berries or tomatoes grown on healthy fertile soil?
Did you know that many berries, tomatoes and some vegetables, such as peppers and cucumbers, which are currently considered organic in the United States, are grown on hydroponics, without soil at all?
This is a particularly strange development, given the movement of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop organic methods of growing food.
Organic farming in the USA
The Law on the Production of Organic Food from 1990 clearly showed that the replenishment and maintenance of soil fertility is the basis of organic farming. In 1995, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an expert advisory group of the US Department of Agriculture, defined organic agriculture as “an ecological production management system that promotes and strengthens biodiversity, biological cycles and biological activity of the soil.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Regulations describe organic farming as a set of practices that “support the circulation of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and preserve biodiversity.”
“This includes maintaining or improving soil and water quality, preserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife, as well as avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its introduction to organic methods.
This part of “soil improvement” is key in the minds of many supporters of organic farming. To this end, in 2010, the NOSB recommended that crop production systems that exclude soil, such as hydroponics, be prohibited from receiving organic certification. However, the National Organic Program, part of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service responsible for USDA organic standards and the accreditation of organic certification agents, has not accepted this recommendation.
In the fall of 2017, after massive lobbying efforts by industrial agribusiness, NOSB voted 8-7 against the recommendation to ban the labeling of hydroponic crops as organic.
Some have called the vote a watershed moment for the organic program in the United States. The problem of hydroponics, along with the development of “organic” operations for feeding animals in stalls and the import of corn and soybeans that have not been recognized as organic, are key areas of what many now consider organic fraud or the erosion of organic standards in the interests of big business.
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponic systems grow plants in water, often with an inert medium such as coconut husks, to give stability to the roots. Plants receive nutrients through water, and the soil is not involved in this process.
Since hydroponics excludes soil, it excludes the whole process of cultivating healthy soil capable of supporting rich microbial life and a variety of healthy plants. Proponents of hydroponics claim that this method allows you to save water and grow plants quickly.
Not all proponents of hydroponics agree with the NOSB decision made in 2017.
Dan Lubkeman, an ardent proponent of hydroponics, was disappointed that the USDA granted hydroponics organic status. He is the president of the Hydroponic Society of America (HSA), a 46-year-old nonprofit organization that promotes hydroponics.
“The word ‘organic’ was specifically created for plants grown in soil, and hydroponics was specifically created for growing without soil,” he said in an email.
“Consumers want to know that their food is safe. As you know, the word “organic” gives consumers a warm feeling of healthy food without pesticides.”
Lubkeman said that consumers are willing to pay more for organic products and the ideals of purity that the organic label embodies.
“The hydroponics industry wants to capitalize on this consumer perception of safety without spending years developing its own version of the word “organic.” It is easier for them to charge more and faster by relying on soil farmers. I think the hydroponics industry has no right to the word organic, I think it’s lazy marketing and misleading the consumer. Hydroorganics is an oxymoron (a combination of contradictory concepts) in my book,” he said.
Although labeling “organic” may not be ideal, and there are problems with counterfeiting organic products, it makes sense for consumers, and organic products tend to outperform conventional ones. But, according to Lubkeman, organic is not hydroponics, and it does not need to be so. Hydroponics has its advantages and should stand on them, he believes.
“With well-organized hydroponic production, pesticides, animal feces or blood/bone meal are never used, nothing is composted, and there is less risk of pathogens and diseases. My definition of hydroponic food is “more food, less space, less water, and less time.” Hydroponics has many advantages and is the future of agriculture,” he said.
Lubkeman and HSA are not the only ones who disagree with the organic status of hydroponics, although most groups opposing it do so because they see the unique advantages of soil that are not reproduced in hydroponics.
In the 2018 report “Disturbing Waters: how hydroponic agribusiness and the U.S. Department of Agriculture diluted organic matter by authorizing groundless cultivation,” the Cornucopia Institute, a prominent body overseeing the organic industry, reported that hydroponic growing media such as coconut husks do not provide many other benefits of real soil.
“The labels on these “organic” products do not distinguish hydroponic crops from those grown in the soil, despite the fact that products with a high nutrient content grown in the soil are in great demand among informed consumers,” the report says.
It’s all about the soil
If we leave aside the nutritional advantages of hydroponics in comparison with products grown in the soil, there is a significant advantage of organic farming. Organic farming has always been based on the principle of “feeding the soil, not the plant.” True organic farming relies on the microbial activity of the soil, which slowly releases nutrients to the plants.
This means that the soil is able to grow food for future generations without the use of more sophisticated hydroponic plant technology. It also means that the soil returns to its natural state with rich microbial activity and ecological diversity.
When it comes to organic and conventional agriculture, this difference is obvious. Traditional agriculture uses herbicides such as glyphosate to destroy other vegetation, and then feeds the plants with chemical fertilizers.
Organic farmers have long known that healthy soil creates nutritious food, healthy people and a healthy environment. Research confirms this. A 2014 review article in the British Journal of Nutrition, which reviewed 343 peer-reviewed publications, showed that the concentration of health-protecting antioxidants in organic foods is higher, and the content of toxic heavy metals and pesticides is lower than in inorganic products.
The study, the results of which were published in October 2018 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, showed that eating organic foods can reduce the risk of cancer. During the study, about 70 thousand adults were observed for five years, most of whom were women.
By prohibiting the use of synthetic chemical pesticides, including the problematic herbicide glyphosate, certified organic farming also benefits the environment and wildlife in many ways.
The struggle for the preservation of organic soil
Although “organic” hydroponic productions do not use chemical pesticides and herbicides, they also do not contribute to the ecological health of a larger planetary ecosystem. This difference seems more obvious to organic regulators in different countries.
The labeling of hydroponic products as “organic” occurs essentially only in the United States. In Canada, Mexico and most other developed countries, hydroponic products are explicitly prohibited from labeling as organic.
The predominance of “organic” hydroponic products is accounted for by industrial-scale corporate enterprises in the Southwest and in Mexico (from where it is exported to the United States) or imported from countries such as the Netherlands, where it is also illegal to sell groundless products as organic, according to a 2018 report.
Experts in the field of organic production say that hydroponics is one of several major threats to the integrity of the organic program. One of the experts advocating for organic food to meet the standards on which they were based — growing on healthy soil, is Dave Chapman, who grows organic tomatoes at Long Wind Farm in Vermont.
Between 2011 and 2013, Chapman began to notice something unusual about organic tomatoes in all the grocery stores he visited.
“The truth is that currently the vast majority of fresh “certified organic” tomatoes in stores are hydroponic, and many other vegetables will become hydroponic. Organic will mean hydro-grown material from massive greenhouse complexes,” he said.
“Is it organic products? I do not think so. I’ve hardly met anyone in the organic community who would say, “Yes, it’s organic.” No one believes that these methods should be organic, except for the people who manage them.”
One of these people is Jim Krasus, CEO of the Edible Garden company.
Edible Garden claims to produce “environmentally friendly local products grown in greenhouses with waste-free production.” The company works with local greenhouses to get products that, according to her, consumers can trust.
“Edible Garden welcomes the opportunity to grow certified organic crops on hydroponics and in CEA (Controlled Environment Agriculture) conditions, just like traditional field producers. This sign of support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow consumers to ultimately benefit from a wider selection of organic products at local grocery stores,” Krasus said in an email interview.
Companies like Edible Garden produce products without chemical pesticides and herbicides, but critics like Chapman say that’s not enough.
Chapman believes that it is impossible for hydroponic producers to recreate soil conditions.
“The nutrition in hydroponics does not come from the complex interaction of minerals and microbes that terrestrial plants in the soil have relied on for the past 500 million years. It’s a long time. Something has become clear in the process of this joint evolution,” he said. —It’s a very complex ecosystem where plants feed microbes in the soil, and microbes feed plants.”
Sorting through Confusion
Hydroponics is a radical departure from how a plant gets nourished in nature, although proponents of hydroponics such as Lubkeman say that hydroponics simply makes it easier for a plant to absorb inorganic, processed elements derived from organic elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
But for those who want to do more than just avoid toxic materials in agriculture and want to maintain a food production system that takes care of soil health, hydroponics is not suitable.
One of the ways to avoid buying hydroponics—grown products marked “organic” is to refer to the “Guidelines for the rejection of Groundless Organic products”, which the Cornucopia Institute has created for buyers. It lists the brands of products that grow their products on hydroponics or without soil.
Ways to choose organic products grown in soil
It is even better to find organic products and goods grown in the soil by paying attention to two relatively new additional labels to the USDA Organic. Farmers and supporters of strong organic practices have not abandoned the USDA Organic program, but have taken measures to develop it in order to preserve the integrity of real organic agriculture.
Real Organic Project
After unsuccessful attempts to remove hydroponics from products labeled USDA Organic, Chapman became one of the co—founders of the Real Organic Project, a farming movement created to highlight soil-grown products and pasture-grown products within the framework of USDA Organic.
The Real Organic Project works as an additional sign to certified organic products, that is, it certifies only those farms that already have a USDA Organic certificate.
Obtaining a Real Organic Project certificate does not cost any money, since the certification program is funded by consumers, farmers and private foundations who want to distinguish farms that grow their animals and crops in accordance with the letter and spirit of certified organic standards.
The Real Organic Project (ROP) certified 60 farms in its first year of operation (2018); by the end of 2022, 1,100 farms will be certified by ROP. You can also search for products with the ROP logo on the food produced on these farms. Learn more on the website RealOrganicProject.org .
Regenerative Organic certification
Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) is another new certification for food, fiber and personal care ingredients. Created in 2017 by a group of farmers, business leaders and experts called Regenerative Organic Alliance, ROC embraces organic farming and then raises the bar by prioritizing improving soil health and creating carbon in the soil, pasture animal husbandry and social justice for farm workers. Learn more on the website Regenorganic.org .
Melissa Diana Smith is a holistic nutrition consultant and journalist who has been writing on health topics for over 25 years. She is the author of several books on nutrition, including “Syndrome X”, “Going Against the Grain”, “Gluten-Free for a Year” and “Going Against GMOs”.
A source: https://www.epochtimes.ru