A Hypocritical Hydroponic Hypocracy

Created on 2017-11-02 14:52

Published on 2017-11-02 14:55

It appears some of the big brands of the organic industry don’t want you to know that some of their products bearing the USDA “organic” seal may be grown with neither soil nor sunlight. Remember all that talk about the “Right to Know” how your food is grown?

Yeah…never mind that.

Beginning ten years ago, government sanctioned organic inspectors have quietly approved hydroponic growing to be marketed as organic without telling anyone. No prior notice, no printed label. They unilaterally blessed anemic tomatoes, greens, berries and peppers grown in multi-story sealed buildings outfitted with plastic feeding tubes and artificial lights as equivalent to the robust produce grown by human hands under sunlight in rich soil.

Hypocracy: leadership whose talk is betrayed by its actions.

At the Fall 2017 meeting of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), dozens of soil farmers came to plead their case against the water growers. Consumers believe they are supporting family farms, they said. The higher cost is the true cost of sustainable farms and communities. Soil is the soul of the earth. Our food is more nutritious. We fight climate warming, chemical run-off, and rural economic decline. We built organic, and now it’s being stolen from us.

The hydroponic lobbyists who showed up too, brushing off the soil farmers’ pleas with jargon-filled speeches about “the future of farming” and “mimicking soil ecology with chemical potions”. You’re afraid of technology, they said. You’re food is not as safe. Soil is just dried out water. Change or die.

“Hydroponics has fooled consumers for so long,” they stated, “it would be unfair to call our bluff now.”

This hypocrisy matters because whole sectors of the organic economy have been captured by these big hydroponic operations. Most organic tomatoes, peppers, berries and cucumbers are now grown only by these big operations. They collectively control the supply to major retailers, which results in the exclusion of real organic farmers from access to markets. Hydroponic costs are too low and volumes too high for real organic farmers to compete with (although you don’t see that reflected in lower retail prices). Their all-year-long harvest of blemish-free crops leaves no room for the local farmer who can only harvest vine-ripe crops for a few months each summer and fall — whenever weather, soil and sunlight cooperate.

We should have known.

As recently as a year ago, many of these hydroponic boosters were surreptitiously undermining GMO labeling efforts. Sometimes they donated to opposition funding, sometimes they just quietly said nothing while tens of thousands of dedicated non-GMO farmers and consumers called, wrote and rallied for their Right to Know.

GMO labeling activists think that food produced with genetic engineering should be disclosed to shoppers, so they can make an informed choice about what they eat. The movement’s infamous betrayal by its supposed leaders, written into the 2016 DARK Act, allows an unreadable symbol to be placed on packaging so consumers can (supposedly) surf to information on a web page (assuming they have a smart phone, internet service, no kids in tow and five hours to shop). Delays, loopholes and exclusions make the law meaningless – except that the DARK Act also preempts US state’s ability to put better laws in place. Remember their rallying cry:

“Genetically engineered food has fooled consumers for so long, it would be unfair to call our bluff now.”

It was never clear who was really committed to GMO labeling, but you would make a good bet that the Coalition to Hide Hydroponics in Organic (or whatever name their Washington lobbyists came up with) was one of the groups working behind the scenes to undermine it. Big brands with “flexible principles” control the withering Organic Trade Association. Few corporate members stepped up with money to fund the state campaigns for mandatory GMO labeling. Some, perhaps to their credit, openly contributed to and campaigned against GMO transparency efforts.

The OTA, with tortured logic, lead the charge to pass the DARK Act by claiming it was inevitable — just as it is leading the backroom campaign to keep consumers from knowing that soilless and sunless hydroponics can now hide behind the USDAorganic seal. The OTA now leads the cabal defending unlabeled hydroponic food, and marketing it as real organic. Forget your Right to Know. OTA’s national leadership is partly shared with the Just Label It lobbying group, which led the compromise on the DARK Act. The JLI name now rings hollow with irony. But the organic movement’s surrender to the hydroponic growers is even worse – because it hides soilless and sunless cropping behind the official USDA Organic seal.

Hey hydroponic hypocracy: Just Label It.

Our real organic farmers, the ones with dirt in their fingernails, are crestfallen at their defeat. They are organizing to withdraw from the USDA organic program and build a new seal with integrity. It also falls to consumers and retailers to act. Every time you see the USDA organic seal, ask if it’s grown in dirt in the ground. Ask which brands only grow in water under LEDs. Ask why those growers don’t disclose their methods on their stickers and packaging. Demand that they do.

Don’t know? Don’t buy.

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