Lawsuit Threatens Aquaponics Organic Eligibility


The Center for Food Safety (CFS), along with a coalition of organic farms and stakeholders, filed a lawsuit challenging the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) decision to allow hydroponic operations to be certified organic. The Court has set a hearing date for June 11, 2020.

The lawsuit claims that hydroponic operations do not comply with the Organic Food Production Act because they do not foster soil fertility, as required in the Act. The lawsuit mentions aquaponics, but does not make a legal distinction between aquaponics and hydroponics. A decision against the USDA would likely have the same effect for aquaponics as hydroponics. See the lawsuit.

Aquaponic, hydroponic, and controlled-environment growers must fight to ensure our crops stay Organic-eligible!

Aquaponics is Organic with a Capital “O”!

Aquaponics fits the Organic mission. The Organic label is about empowering consumers to identify products that match their values. Consumers do not prefer organic because it is grown in soil; they prefer it because it is pesticide-free, environmentally sustainable, and relies on natural ecosystems for plant growth. So the question is: does aquaponics align with what the consumer expects when they purchase Organic? YES!

“Organic” is perceived by consumers to mean:

Production without prohibited chemicals — the NOSB publishes a list of banned substances that are not allowed in production. Aquaponic systems are able to flourish without these chemicals. Aquaponic systems rely on Organic materials and a robust microbial ecosystem for natural system immunity.

Production that fosters the cycling of resources, ecological balance, and biodiversity conservation — Aquaponics can be constructed as closed-loop ecosystems in which only the minimum required water and nutrients are added and with minimal or no discharge. Aquaponics has also proven it can produce more food than soil culture per land area, thus saving more of the natural environment from the toll of agriculture.

Production that relies on biological ecosystems to support plant health — Aquaponic production relies on a robust microflora in the root zone—made of the same types and numbers of bacteria and fungi that thrive in soil. This flora converts nutrients into forms available to plants and maintains plant health by reinforcing naturally-occurring mechanisms of disease resistance—just as in a healthy soil. (see Soil Food Web Report)

Production that responds to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices — Consumers expect that organic produce has been grown with a healthy human element, where local customs, expertise, and ingenuity can overcome droughts, concrete jungles, and climate changes. Aquaponics allows environmentally-sensitive agriculture where growing in soil isn’t possible and dramatically expands the market of Organic produce.

Aquaponics is Essential for the Sustainability of Our Food System

Aquaponics is critical to improving the sustainability of our agricultural system, but revoking Organic eligibility would move this industry backwards.

The benefits of aquaponics include: dramatic water savings, reduced resource inputs, less fertilizer runoff that causes toxic dead zones, shorter supply chains and carbon emissions, greater food safety with controlled-environment growing, and greater production per land area.

In an era of climate change, resource depletion, and rapid population growth, the Organic price premium is a critical incentive to draw more aquaponic growers into the industry. If this lawsuit revokes aquaponics’ Organic eligibility, this vital industry will not grow as quickly and our environment, health, and economy will suffer.

Background Info

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted 8 to 7 in 2018 to continue the Organic eligibility of aquaponic and hydroponic operations. The Aquaponics Association fought to maintain aquaponics’ organic eligibility by submitting written comments for NOSB meetings; collecting and delivering over 200 signatures in favor of organic aquaponics; providing in-person statements and answering panel questions at NOSB meetings; and by taking Members of the NOSB to a tour of Flourish Farms, a commercial aquaponic farm and Aquaponics Association Affiliate Member in Denver, Colorado.

Aquaponics aligns with the values of Organic that consumers expect. Rather than placing a greater toll on our environment and health, we should reject this lawsuit and support Organic Aquaponics.


Do you want to help the Aquaponics Association Fight for Aquaponics?

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that connects growers and works to increase aquaponic production. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause.

Benefits of Membership include:

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Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
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  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new fields
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: General Membership

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