Ed Beckman, Certified Greenhouse FarmersRising demand for greenhouse-grown (sometimes called hothouse) tomatoes and a diminishing market for field-grown tomatoes have some growers and distributors mislabeling field-grown product as greenhouse grown.
Misrepresented products are now commonly found in supermarkets and in foodservice.
Certified Greenhouse Farmers, a trade association representing greenhouse growers in Canada, Mexico and the U.S., is advocating for a standard, enforceable definition for greenhouse-grown produce.
When a consumer wishes to buy greenhouse-grown produce, he or she should be assured that the product labeled greenhouse is, in fact, produced in a defined greenhouse under the highest standards for quality, safety and environmental performance.
Unlike certified organic, there is yet to be a standard definition for greenhouse production.
California is the most aggressive in defining greenhouse-grown tomatoes, having enacted labeling laws to prevent the marketing of tomatoes as greenhouse unless the product is hydroponically produced in an approved structure.
The terms greenhouse-grown and “protected agriculture” are often erroneously used interchangeably, but protected agriculture fruits and vegetables, increasingly grown in Mexico, are not hydroponically grown and the environmental and climate controls vary.
In many instances, the product is closer to traditional field-grown than greenhouse. The standards advocated for by Certified Greenhouse Farmers are far more stringent.
True greenhouse farming provides the opportunity for consistent year-round produce with greater protection against food safety issues because food is grown indoors hydroponically and is protected from animal and soil-born contamination.
Because there is no soil, there is no need for herbicides or soil fumigants — and the benefits don’t stop there. Fresh greenhouse-grown produce is more sustainable and uses less water than field-grown produce, and water may be recycled and recaptured.
In addition, greenhouses focus on prevention of pests by keeping them away to begin with, reducing the need for pesticides. Alternatively, greenhouse growers use biological controls, predatory insects and other controls whenever possible.
Market share for greenhouse-grown tomatoes continues to grow. According to Nielsen Perishables Group, using scanner data, more than 50% of tomato sales in supermarkets are those packaged as greenhouse-grown.
Further, within the tomato category, greenhouse tomatoes on the vine are preferred by nearly one out of three shoppers, Nielsen found, representing the single highest tomato purchase, and continuing to grow at a rate well above the category.