Oral arguments are set for Thursday in a case addressing the question of whether hydroponically grown fruits and vegetables should be able to receive organic certification.

The Center for Food Safety and other groups have challenged USDA’s rejection of a petition seeking to block organic certification of produce grown without soil.

“CFS's lawsuit cites the federal Organic Foods Production Act, which requires farms to build soil fertility in order to be certified organic,” the group said in a news release. “Hydroponics cannot comply with federal organic standards because hydroponic crops are not grown in soil. Allowing hydroponics to be certified organic is another attempt to weaken the integrity of the Organic label, and has resulted in market confusion and inconsistent organic certifications.”

The Aquaponics Association and other groups, however, said in an amicus brief filed in the case that “numerous studies demonstrate that organic hydroponic growers are able to establish the same quantity and diversity of microbiology — a fundamental component of organic agriculture — found in in-soil production methods. This activity readily enables organic hydroponic growers to meet the standard for organic production” under the National Organic Program.

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"Throughout the life of the NOP, hydroponically-grown produce has been eligible to attain organic certification so long as the operation is able to meet the rigorous certification standards that are generally required of organic growers,” said the brief, which also was signed by Western Growers, the Coalition for Sustainable Organics and The Scotts Company.

CFS said the plaintiff coalition includes "some of the longest-standing organic farms in the United States, including Swanton Berry Farm, Full Belly Farm, Durst Organic Growers, Terra Firma Farm, Jacobs Farm del Cabo, and Long Wind Farm," as well as organic certifier OneCert and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

The arguments, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, can be viewed here.

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