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Is SNAP “Organic?”

“SNAP is not organic.” is what I always answer when this question is posted in SNAP Hydroponics Growers (SHG). Being “organic” is such a polarizing property it seems. People literally leave the group whenever that discussion is brought out. What is it about being “organic” or having the “organic” label that seems to be so important. In food production what does it mean to be organic?

A long time ago the human population is low. They are hunter gatherers. The population is kept in check by the outcomes of the hunt and gathers. Because of this everybody is required to hunt and to gather for the survival of the group. One day, the gatherers noticed that plants grew out of the seed they toss.

Eventually, they learned that if they keep cultivating the best plant and toss the bad ones they make better plants. This is how domesticated plants happened. A large percentage of the plants we eat are modified varieties of their “wild” counter part.

a wild banana cut into two to show the inside
A wild banana.

This is how agriculture started. Because of agriculture the population spiked. People started to settle down to form civilizations. The increase in population means farmers need to increase their yield by researching new techniques and ideas.

Fortunately for them people aren’t tied to hunting and gathering anymore. There is enough food that some people do other things like crafts, arts and more importantly science. We got better and better at farming and the population grew bigger and bigger still. We learned techniques like cycling crops, using compost to fertilize the soil and we control pests through biological means and utilizing plants and animals and the most sustainable way. Like feeding grazing animals plant material from the fields and using the manure of the grazing animals to fertilize the fields for better crops. That’s what I imagine people would think about when they say a food was grown through organic means and is thus organic food. I like this method. It is sustainable and nature friendly. But why didn’t it just stay that way?

Because of the population. It is growing so fast that agriculturists need even faster methods growing plants and increasing yields. Agriculturists figured out that plants doesn’t really need compost or manure to grow faster it doesn’t even need soil. All they need are essential chemicals dissolved in water (and carbon dioxide and light of course) that are provided by the soil and which can be amended by adding manure or compost. Manure and compost are rich in these essential chemicals and are one of man kinds first fertilizer.

a table listing the nutrients essential to plant growth
Essential nutrients. Chemicals essential to plant growth.

Because we can now manufacture these nutrients essential to plant growth we have chemical fertilisers. Because we have such good result with it we tend to overdo it and in the process we pollute our soil and water. Our excesses gets the best of us.

I mentioned earlier that plants only needs essential nutrients, carbon dioxide and light to grow which is why we have hydroponics. A method of growing plants in nutrient solution with out the use of soil.

“But you still haven’t answered what it means to have an organic label”, you might ask. I’ll use the definition in Republic Act No. 10068 or the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010:

Organic refers to the particular farming and processing system, described in the standards and not in the classical chemical sense. The term “organic” is synonymous in other languages to “biological” or “ecological”. It is also a labeling term that denotes products considered organic based on the Philippine National Standards for organic agriculture.

This means that by law the term organic is a label for produce that the Philippine Standards for organic agriculture deemed fit to carry the “organic” label. This mean most of the produce you commonly see on the market is not organic. It is also against the law to label produce as organic when it’s not.

This is just one legislation, definition and standard. Other countries have their own legislation, definition and standard. In the United States, under certain conditions hydroponics produce can be given the “organic” label.

So that settles it. By Philippine law SNAP Hydroponics is not an organic food production method. But even it that is the case, hydroponics is still one of the most efficient and eco-friendly method of food production. Perhaps one day our standards will change and we will be allowed to label SNAP hydroponics produce as organic.