Official Statement on the Ongoing NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) Aquaponic Eligibility Debate


The Aquaponics Association’s official statement on the ongoing NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) Aquaponic eligibility debate. Prepared by:

Brian Filipowich

Aquaponics Association, Directer of Public Policy, February 2017

The Aquaponics Association Urges the National Organic Standards Board to Maintain the Organic Eligibility of Aquaponic Produce

The Aquaponics Association very strongly urges the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to maintain the ability of crops grown in aquaponic systems to carry the organic seal. The 15-member NOSB met in St. Louis last November and considered a proposal to revoke the organic eligibility of crops grown in water-based systems like aquaponic, hydroponic, and perhaps even soil-based “container-grown” systems. The NOSB noted that in 2016 there are 52 certified organic hydroponic/aquaponic operations. The NOSB plans to vote again in April, at the Spring 2017 meeting in Denver.

The Aquaponics Association firmly believes that we can deliver what consumers expect when they see the organic label:         

1)  No synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or antibiotics

2)  Sustainable production

3)  Healthy, active microbiology


The NOSB eventually found that more work will be needed before making a final decision on this matter, and they sent it back for more work in the Crops Sub-committee. They did, however, pass a non-binding resolution stating their belief that crops with “entirely water-based substrates” should not be eligible. And, in their statements, several members of the NOSB expressed a keen interest in revoking aquaponic organic eligibility. Even if the NOSB does eventually make a final decision, it would still take years for the National Organic Program (NOP) to write and implement rules. (In fact, the NOP did not act on the NOSB’s 2010 recommendation to ban hydroponics). So, for the foreseeable future, aquaponics remains organic eligible. We will see movement and more clarity on this issue at the next NOSB meeting in April 2017.

Dr. Sarah Taber, Aquaponics Association Director of Food Safety, delivered a statement illustrating the depth of empirical peer-reviewed research showing that the roots of aquaponic plants contain the same quantity and diversity of root bacteria and fungi as soil-grown plants. This statement spoke to a key consideration of organic eligibility: whether plant nutrients are delivered via biological processes or inert mineral solutions.

Brian Filipowich, Aquaponics Association Director of Public Policy, made a statement about consumers’ organic expectations, the sustainability of aquaponics, and the economic effect of the organic seal on aquaponic growers. He noted that the price premium of organic crops is critical to incentivizing new entrants into sustainable growing. (See the full statement for the further discussion of efficiency and economics.)

Aquaponic systems are their own ecosystem of fish, plants, and bacteria that thrive in a symbiotic environment. Because the systems are closed-loop, only the minimum necessary inputs are added (fish food) and with no environmentally-damaging runoff. Aquaponics uses over 90% less water than soil- grown crops. We can also offer a healthy, efficient, and delicious source of animal protein: fish such as Tilapia, Blue Gill, and Perch. And regarding organic: we can’t use antibiotics or chemical pesticides in our systems because it would kill our bacteria and our ecosystems.

Because aquaponics is not soil-based, it can provide fresh local produce in urban or drought-stricken areas. If we are going to meet the demand for affordable organic produce in the decades to come, we will need to employ efficient methods like aquaponics. And, controlled environment production offers full-year jobs, rather than seasonal.

The Aquaponics Association has formed the Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition to advocate on this front. The Coalition is a group of over 50 aquaponic and hydroponic growers and stakeholders.                   

Click Here, to Join the Aquaponic and Hydropoponic Coalition.

The Coalition will continue to fight for organic eligibility until the NOP resolves the issue.

Join our cause to ensure the future of aquaponics is protected! 

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