Media Advisory: Public Oral Argument in Appeal Challenging Court Decision Authorizing Labeling of Soil-less Hydroponic Operations as Organic

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27 July 2022, San Francisco: On Wednesday, July 27, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in Center for Food Safety’s (CFS) ongoing appeal challenging a district court ruling that authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue certifying soil-less hydroponic operations as organic under the Organic label. 

Hydroponic operations, or “hydroponics,” refers to methods of growing crops using water-based nutrient solutions without any soil. CFS’s appeal cites the federal Organic Foods Production Act (the Organic Act), which requires crop farmers to build soil fertility in order to be certified organic. The appeal challenges the lower court’s ruling that USDA was free to exempt hydroponic crop producers from the mandatory duty to build healthy soils. 

The appellants in the case are some of the longest-standing organic farms in the U.S., including Swanton Berry Farm, Full Belly Farm, Durst Organic Growers, Jacobs Farm del Cabo, and Long Wind Farm, in addition to organic stakeholder organizations, such as organic certifier OneCert, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and Center for Food Safety. 

WHAT: Public oral argument in Center for Food Safety’s appeal challenging district court decision authorizing labeling of soil-less hydroponic operations as organic 

WHEN: Wednesday, July 27, at 9:00 AM PT

(CFS’s oral arguments will most likely begin between 10-11 am PT

HOW TO JOIN: https://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/live-oral-arguments/ 

Background:  

CFS originally filed a petition requesting USDA to prohibit organic certification of hydroponic operations that do not work with or build soil in 2019. USDA denied the petition in June of 2019, stating in the denial for the first time that in its view, hydroponic operations are exempt from the mandatory soil fertility requirement of the Organic Act that applied to all other organic crop producers.   

CFS, along with a coalition of organic farms and stakeholders, filed the lawsuit challenging USDA’s decision to allow hydroponic operations to continue to be certified organic in March 2020. In March 2021, the district court sided with the government, ruling that USDA’s decision to exempt hydroponic operations from the mandatory soil fertility requirement was permissible because the Organic Act did not specifically prohibit hydroponic operations. CFS and allies launched the appeal in May 2021.

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