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Organic Farming’s Lawsuit Loss

“How can this kind of soilless farming be called organic? Only by a lawyer or a lobbyist.”

What this week’s legal decision will mean to the good certifiers who refuse to certify hydroponic production as organic is unknown. Certainly, all of us will need to come together to protect them. If we lose these respected certifiers, who knows how long the USDA Organic seal will have ANY relevance to the world?”  Read on below for Dave’s take on the Center for Food Safety and organic farming’s lawsuit loss.

A photo of USDA Leaders. Next to it, a quote that reads: “Let me be clear about one thing,” said USDA Secretary Dan Glickman when organic certification was being considered. “The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.”

Dear Friend,

I heard the news.

We lost (again) in our lawsuit against the USDA on the certification of hydroponic crops as soilless organic.

This lawsuit was organized by the Center For Food Safety to stop hydro production from being certified organic. Long Wind is one of six farms that were co-plaintiffs in the case, along with the certifiers OneCert and MOFGA.

When I say “we” lost, I mean that ALL of us in the organic movement lost something today. We lost a bit more trust in our government, in our courts.

How the USDA sees organic farming

The USDA never wanted to run a National Organic Program. They never believed organic was a better way of farming.

As former Ag Secretary Dan Glickman said, “The Organic label is a marketing tool.”

It was not seen by the USDA as superior in any way to chemical farming, despite the obvious problems with chemical farming.

They saw its role only as protecting the integrity of the organic label, not as promoting organic farming. Their mission was to protect both the farmers and the eaters from fraud.

 

A screenshot of the Merriam Webster definition of "fraud"
Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fraud

It seems to me that the USDA has failed to protect organic.

They have embraced hydroponic and CAFO production.

Hydroponic production is so far from actually being organic that the two biggest hydro producers that have forced their way into the organic market both proclaim that they do not HAVE any hydroponic production.

The producers know that hydro is very unappetizing to their customers.

 

This picture of a Driscoll’s blueberry facility comes from the USDA Hydroponic Task Force report. I served on the Task Force. We saw this as a clear example of a pure hydroponic system.

 

A text box with two quotes. The first reads: ""Driscoll’s does not grow hydroponic, aquaponic or aeroponic crops. Containerized production is not the same production system as hydroponics which is a water-based production system." - From the Driscoll’s website. The second reads: “Greenhouse grown” or “Container grown”, even “Hydroponic,” though we don’t produce hydroponically, is not a bad word for consumers. - Jesse Gunn, Marketing Manager of Wholesum Harvest on NPR.

The world knows what soilless farming & hydroponic means.

Hydroponics is when the nutrition of a plant is supplied as a liquid feed.

That is it. The nutrition is not coming from the complex dance of minerals and microbes that terrestrial plants have relied on in the soil for the last 500 MILLION years. That is a long time. Something got figured out with all that co-evolution.

There are many kinds of hydroponic systems, from aeroponics with their roots hanging in the air to hydro berries and tomatoes with their roots stuck in a plastic pot filled with shredded coconut husks.

 

 

Merriam Webster screenshot of the definition of hydroponic: ": the growing of plants in nutrient solutions with or without an inert medium (such as soil) to provide mechanical support"
Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hydroponics

 

So, apparently, the marketing whizzes at these huge hydro companies can’t read. Or never wondered. Or never tried to understand. Or tried hard to forget.

The sad thing is that we let them. “We” being our government in this case. Not just Tom Vilsack, not just the USDA, but now also the courts.

The rest of the world watches the National Organic Program with dismay. Disbelief, even.

How can this kind of soilless farming be called organic? Only by a lawyer or a lobbyist.

 

Beyond just governmental reform…

By and large, I have moved on from the dedicated attempt at governmental reform. It is still important work. I still try to help, and I tip my hat to the brave souls who are still in the trenches, but for me, it is time to try something else.

I haven’t seen any real progress in the last 12 years of lobbying the USDA’s National Organic Program.

There has been great growth in organic sales, but also great erosion of the integrity of the NOP. The recent Origin of Livestock might be a step forward. We will just have to wait and see.

Earlier “victories” like the Pasture Rule and the Arthur Harvey lawsuit have been easily side-stepped by industry.

What this week’s legal decision will mean to the good certifiers who refuse to certify hydroponic production as organic is unknown. Certainly, all of us will need to come together to protect them. If we lose these respected certifiers, who knows how long the USDA Organic seal will have ANY relevance to the world?

My own response to the failures of the USDA was to start the Real Organic Project with a group of like-minded farmers.

Is it possible for a plucky band of farmers to create a meeting place for the real organic movement?

Is it possible that millions of eaters actually want food grown in the soil and clean of pesticides? Food coming from animals living outside, participating in the endless cycles of water, carbon, and nitrogen?

We think it IS possible.

So let us gnash our teeth for a moment at the failures of our government. Let us cry over the staggering greed and power of the multinational corporations.

And then let us move on and do it ourselves.

Please join us. Together we cannot be stopped.

Dave

A photo of Eliot Coleman speaking outside at rally. Next to him is text that reads: "“We, the creators, refuse to see the promise of organic farming compromised by profiteers. We won before, and we will win again.” - Eliot Coleman, farmer, at the 2016 Thetford Rally In The Valley."

Click here to see the UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Richard Seeborg, Chief District Judge, Presiding- Center For Food Safety; et al versus Thomas J. Vilsack in his official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture; et al

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