Produce grown without soil can continue to be organically certified, a federal judge has ruled, deferring to USDA’s interpretation of the Organic Foods Production Act.

The OFPA “does not speak directly to the issue and cannot compel any action related to hydroponics,” U.S,. District Judge Richard Seeborg said in his March 19 opinion. Therefore, USDA’s regulatory interpretation “that soil fertility provisions apply only to production systems using soil is necessarily a permissible reading,” he said.

The Center for Food Safety and organic farmers sued USDA after the department rejected its petition seeking a prohibition on organic certification for soil-less systems, including hydroponics and aquaponics.

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Reacting to the decision, The Aquaponics Association trumpeted “Good News!” and said, “If the lawsuit was successful, aquaponic farms would have lost the organic certification that is vital to their commercial success.”

Paul Muller, co-owner of plaintiff Full Belly Farm in Guinda, Calif., said, “After the court's ruling, in-the-ground certified organic farms like Full Belly will have to continue to compete in the same marketplace with hydroponic producers who do not need to lift a finger to build soil.”

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