Enigma of organic hydroponic products between US and EU markets

Enigma of organic hydroponic products between US and EU markets

YES, in EU market we can find “ORGANIC” hydroponic products or “ORGANIC” processed products with organic hydroponic ingredients.

How is it possible?

To answer to this question, let’s start with the requirement of EU Regulation: in accordance with Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 889/2008, hydroponic production is prohibited in organic plant production. This prohibition results from the fact that hydroponic production, a method of growing plants with their roots in a nutrient solution only or in an inert medium to which a nutrient solution is added, is not in line with the overall principle of land-related crop cultivation of organic production laid down in Article 4(a)(ii) of Regulation (EC) No 834/2007.

What about the hydroponic certified organic NOP?

The current position from the National Organic Program (NOP) is that certification of hydroponic production systems is allowed as long as the producer can demonstrate compliance with the organic regulations. There are certified organic hydroponic operations in the United States that are certified by USDA accredited certifying agents based on the current regulations and the operation’s organic system plan.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB - Federal Advisory Board considers and makes recommendations for NOP-USDA on a wide range of issues involving the production, handling, and processing of organic products) passed a final recommendation in April of 2010 on production standards for terrestrial plants in containers and enclosures. This recommendation would prohibit hydroponic production of organic crops, with an exception for mushrooms, sprouts, and micro-greens, and allow container production of organic crops under specific provisions that support natural and diverse soil ecology within the container. Hydroponics is defined in the 2010 NOSB Recommendation as “the production of normally terrestrial, vascular plants in nutrient rich solutions or in an inert, porous, solid matrix bathed in nutrient rich solutions.”

In 2017, NOSB considered another proposal on hydroponics and container-growing, but the proposal did not pass. The proposal would have imposed a new definition of hydroponics that included specific limitations on the quantity and frequency of liquid nutrient applications.

The NOP has stated that it may in the future provide additional guidance regarding hydroponic production and how the regulations apply to such methods, but we have not seen any guidance or a proposed rule to date. In the meantime, hydroponic operations certified under the NOP must comply with the organic crop regulations as they are written.

Equivalence Agreement

As of June 1, 2012, after the US-EU Organic Equivalency Arrangement, certified organic products can move freely between the U.S. and EU. Under this Arrangement, the EU recognizes the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) as equivalent to the EU Organic Regulation and allows U.S. organic products to be marketed as “organic” in the EU using the EU organic logo under these conditions:

  • This arrangement is limited to organic products of the U.S., either produced within the U.S. or where the final processing or packaging occurs within the U.S.
  • Tetracycline and streptomycin were not used to control fire blight in apples and pears.
  • An import certificate is issued by an NOP accredited certifying agent attesting to compliance with the terms of the arrangement.

Therefore, NOP certified operators can export their hydroponic products or processed products obtained with hydroponic ingredients to the EU market according to the US-EU organic equivalence agreement because there is no limitation indicated for hydroponic products. As a result, the EU consumer can find NOP certified organic hydroponic products in the EU market and also products processed from hydroponic ingredients without any barrier. However, on the other hand, the EU producer is not allowed to produce hydroponic, neither for EU consumers nor for US consumers according to the current EC regulation 834/07 and even with the new EU regulation 848/2018. which will enter into force on 01/01/2022.

It would be appropriate and fair that organic equivalence agreement between the EU and US stop the USDA-NOP Organic hydroponic products entering the EU Market as they are not permitted under the EU organic regulation