Plaintiffs Appeal Lawsuit Contesting Organic Label on Foods Grown With Hydroponics to Ninth Circuit

On Tuesday, the Center for Food Safety, organic farms, and various groups appealed a district court ruling to the Ninth Circuit attempting to reverse the district court’s ruling that hydroponic growing systems can be considered organic, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) labels.

The USDA was granted summary judgment in the matter on March 19 by the Northern District of California. The court explained that under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) the USDA established certification standards for organic farms. It ruled that the USDA’s interpretation of the act was not incorrect and it’s denial of the plaintiffs’ petition, which it submitted to the USDA in 2019 asking it to not include hydroponic farms under the organic definition, was not a breach of the legal definition for organic foods.

Plaintiffs in the case include the Center for Food Safety, Swanton Berry Farms Inc., Full Belly Farm Inc., Durst Organic Growers Inc., Terra Firma Farms Inc., Jacobs Farm Del Cabo Inc., Long Wind Farm Inc., OncCert Inc., and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. They argued that hydroponic farms should not be considered organic because they do not use soil. The Center for Food Safety alleged that under the OFPA organic farmers must build soil fertility, which is not part of hydroponic systems because they use water but not soil.

“By allowing USDA to exempt hydroponic operations from a mandatory component of the Organic label, the lower court’s ruling has weakened the integrity of that label, and opened the door for further dilution of what it means to be Organic,” Sylvia Wu, senior attorney at the Center for Food safety, said in a press release. “Organic crop farmers dedicate their lives to working the land, building healthy soils that nourish the food we eat as well as the ecosystem at large — benefits that represent the very meaning of the Organic label.”

The plaintiffs are represented by lawyers with the Center for Food Safety and the defendants are represented by the Department of Justice.