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US / EU: Soilless cultivation - organic or not?

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The discussion basically concerns the possibility to grow organic products not Indoor agriculture on substrate - is it organic?in the soil but in substrates. In the USA this has not been regulated until now. It is not explicitly forbidden.  And in the regulatory void hydroponic companies were certified organic.  

Now the NOSB, an advisory body to the American Ministry of Agriculture has taken up this issue and formulated proposals to regulate organic growing systems in greenhouses or above soil systems (also a lot of berries are grown in pots). The crops subcommittee has worked on a proposal which will be voted upon this November 1. The issue has raised a debate in the USA, between organic farmers who believe that organic should be grown in the soil  no matter if it is a greenhouse, and certified operations that fight for their right to maintain the organic label.

Regulation of cultivation practices in the EU  

“We think the USA could learn from how the situation is regulated in the EU”, says Bavo van den Idsert, director from the Dutch organic umbrella organization Bionext. In the EU the regulation of soilless cultivation practices is quite a clear issue:  growing in soil is one of the core characteristics of organic production. This has recently been strengthened in the EU Organic Regulation to come. The exceptions that are granted for organic production in substrate systems are based on history and climate and are to be phased out. In the US this is at the moment less clear, maybe because there has been a grey area for so long, and at the moment it is dividing the American organic community.  

As the production of organic is a system that is based on a firm set of principles that are shared globally, the discussion in the US is also very relevant to the EU. Moreover as  NOP certified companies can export their products to the EU following the equivalency agreement with the US. “I would say that a change in US rules may call for a review of the US-EU equivalence agreement”, emphasizes Van den Idsert.

For more information please visit

the website of the NOSB.

The document that contains the proposal from the NOSB is made public lately




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