An Organic Problem – The Validity of Hydroponics

Krysten Heberly
Opinions Editor

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Photo Credit: Plashing Vole/Flickr

As science has progressed, so has our fear of science. It seems as if every other day, a new buzzword comes out to describe the chemicals which we are putting into our bodies, separating them into the categories of good and bad. However, as many of us learned in school, science is not a simple subject. This means that our categorization will not be simple as well.

A recent example of this complicated categorization includes the current debates over whether crops which are grown hydroponically can be identified as being “certified organic” by the USDA. The short answer is yes, as crops grown in a hydroponic solution are not receiving added chemicals or pesticides due to their nature of growth.

Growing crops hydroponically simply means that the plants will be grown in a nutrient-rich water solvent, rather than in soil. This is a practice which is especially effective for land conservation, as plants grown in soil need significantly more land to grow on. Growing hydroponic crops does not mean that the crops are dangerous, cancer-causing Frankenfoods. They are nothing more than an alternative to traditional farming practices.

Currently, to have a food identified as “certified organic”, 95 percent or more of the crop should be free of synthetic additives and pesticides. Hydroponics would be an easy way to achieve that 95 percent, without losing crop yields to infestations or disease. They reduce our need for land, and they can be better studied in labs to help better understand the most efficient and effective ways to grow produce without modifying the seed or spraying it with heavy pesticides.

Many people have hesitations about hydroponics, as they are using a vat of chemicals to grow produce. Upon first glance, this may seem as if it is in opposition to the organic movement’s rejection of pesticides and other additives. There has been this association of all chemicals in food with being dangerous and harmful, when that is not necessarily true.

The truth is, chemicals are not inherently bad. Pesticides, preservatives and added chemicals in food can definitely be harmful to the environment and to our bodies, but farming without using any chemicals at all would be impossible. Hydroponic farming uses a solvent, but the chemicals involved hardly vary from the nutrients which are already found in soil.

The association with chemicals and toxins with cancers and environmental degradation are not completely unwarranted, but our hesitations about what we are putting into our food should not dissuade us from using new practices which could be extremely beneficial to us. Hydroponics are not strange and dangerous chemicals in the same way that the elements of soil are not strange and dangerous.

The real root of this debate, comes from the stakeholders in the organic market. Currently, a few select organizations hold the monopoly on growing organic food such as General Mills, WhiteWave Foods Company and Haines Celestial Group. These groups are the biggest dissenters against stretching the definition of “organic” to including aquaponic and hydroponic crops.

By centralizing the market around certain kinds of crops, these corporate enterprises can establish a monopoly on the organic food market. This associates other methods of farming with unhealthy and chemical-ridden food, and drives out competition. The interests at play here involve the financial shares of a select few companies, not the general health of consumers.

This fight between those who already dominate the organics industry and those who are attempting to profit is one that has very little basis. Companies which already grow organic crops are attempting to associate hydroponics with the same fears that inspired the organic movement in the first place. Yet, there is no basis for those claims, and hopefully the USDA will see that.

In short, crops grown hydroponically should be considered organic if they follow USDA guidelines for organic produce. They are not an evil invention by a faceless, nameless corporation which seeks to destroy. Hydroponic farming is simply an alternative to the land-use problem currently facing the agriculture industry. Hydroponic farmers should have the same right to profit off of organic farming as those who use soil.

Categories: Editorials, Opinions, Uncategorized

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