When the National Organics Standards Board delayed a vote in November on whether produce grown on hydroponic and similar systems could be organic, members wanted to step back and gather more information on the issue.
Companies marketing organic greenhouse bell peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables grown on hydro- and aquaponic systems might have to wait another year before the issue is decided.
The NOSB’s three-day spring meeting in Denver ended April 21, with no formal vote or action taken in regard to hydroponic and container growing, and it is unlikely there will be a vote in 2017.
“The NOSB decided this was something so fundamental to the organics industry, they want everyone participating in the policy developing process for how to handle container and hydroponic growing systems,” said Lee Frankel, executive director for the Coalition for Sustainable Organics.
“One member suggested by the time they develop a good written recommendation and release it back to the public for comment,” Frankel said, “it won’t be ready for the fall meeting. There probably won’t be a vote for at least a year.”
Frankel believes such careful consideration is what the NOSB wants for such a big change to policy.
“The systems have been certified for 15 years — since the USDA took over the certification programs from different private certification organizations,” Frankel said. “For people to revoke certification for people who have been in the business for a long time, that decision needs to be based on a justifiable reason.”
Frankel said a significant amount of greenhouse vegetables are grown using the systems in the debate.
“The most recent Nielson report said that for tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers, 30% of those are coming from container and hydroponic systems,” Frankel said. “Changes in policies will cause severe disruptions in the marketplace. It’s a complicated subject, and we hope members of NOSB take their work seriously and come up with clear reasoning.”
Nate Lewis, farm policy director at the Organic Trade Association, chalks the delays up to board turnover.
“NOSB has not yet achieved consensus among its members regarding definitions, and without definitions a vote on prohibition cannot occur,” he said in an e-mail. “Additionally, there are five new members on the board as of January 2017, and the turnover on the board has contributed to a longer timeline for coming to a decision on the issue of organic hydroponics.”