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USDA Debates: Are Recirculating Agricultural Methods Considered ‘Organic?’

Oct 27, 2016 05:14 AM EDT
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture is debating whether to consider food sourced from recirculating hydroponic and aquaponic agricultural methods should be considered organic.
(Photo : Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is evaluating whether to approve hydroponic and aquaponic systems as organic.

The USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a federal advisory board that considers and makes recommendations on a wide range of issues involving the production, handling, and processing of organic products, will be holding a meeting next month to discuss the matter.

"Our current industrial agricultural system has created major problems," Marianne Cufone, executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, a collaborative group of farmers, educators and non-profit organizations committed to building local sources of food, said in a press release.

"Various practices contribute to ecological damage, including excessive water use, monocropping, genetically modified seeds and toxic pesticides use, so we see changes like decreased biodiversity in seeds and species, and less nutrients in our food."

Instead of using soil, recirculating farms use nutrient-rich and clean recycled water in growing crops. For instance, hydroponics is a method of growing vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs, and other plants using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.

Aquaponics, on the other hand, is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture (fish and aquatic plants farming), where fish and plants are cultivated in a symbiotic environment.

These methods are mostly closed-loop, land-based farms that reuse water and recycle wastes. Some of these farms run on renewable energy and can grow without using antibiotics, drugs or other chemicals. They do not need to be connected to natural water sources or drainage, and at the same time, they could grow crops without harming the wild or compete with local fishermen in selling fish.

"Recirculating aquaponic and hydroponic farms are sustainable options with controlled inputs and known outputs, exactly like existing organic farms," Cufone added. "In fact, many recirculating farms not only meet, but can exceed existing organic standards with their eco-efficient and versatile designs, and reduced use of water, fossil fuels, fertilizers, and electricity."

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