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US: Non-hydroponic organic label in the making

With a new extra-organic label, a group of Vermont growers want to distinguish their organic production from the USDA certified organic production, i.e. hydroponically grown produce. 

It was only last week that Olivier Brailly with French company Groupe MGD opted for a new label addition to close the gap between conventional and organic: pesticide-free. Now American growers opt for a fourth one: Real Organic. Most notable part of it is the importance of keeping the soil in organic. "We are creating a label we can trust", the initiators say.

The initiative follows the NOSB's recent decision to have hydroponic and aquaponic farms remain eligible for the USDA Organic Certification - allowing products from these farms to carry the USDA Organic label. According to a group of farmers and advocates united under the name 'Real Organic Project', the USDA certification 'loses the meaning of organic'. They fight for another label, excluding hydroponic farming and large livestock farms that don’t pasture their animals.

"It has not been a good year for the National Organic Program", Dave Chapman, organic tomato grower and partner of the project, writes on the website. "Since the November NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) meeting in Jacksonville failed to prohibit HYDRO, the organic community has gone through a period of questioning and searching. We are wrestling with the basic question, 'Can we trust the USDA to protect organic integrity?'"

The Real Organic Standards Board is formed by several farmers including several fruit and vegetable growers like Eric Sideman, Linley Dixon, Dave Chapman, and Paul Muller, Jennifer Taylor, Jim Gerritsen and other industry representatives, including Alan Lewis, with health food store chain Natural Grocers. "We feel that something must be done. We want to help clear up the confusion the NOP failures have created for people trying to support traditional organic farming", the explanation continues on their website.

"We are not trying to destroy the USDA label. Rather we are trying to save it. We have already worked for many years to build an organic label that people can trust. Without such transparency, we all lose." 

In this video, uploaded last November by The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, David Chapman explains why he believes the integrity of the USDA organic seal is at risk

Their work will involve a number of efforts, starting with the creation of a new “Add-On” label. "It will use USDA certification as a base, but it will have a small number of critical additional requirements. These will differentiate it from the CAFOs, HYDROs, and import cheaters that are currently USDA certified."

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