Documents

Aquaponics Association Statement on Aquaculture Executive Order

September 21, 2020

For Immediate Release

The Aquaponics Association has published a Statement regarding White House Executive Order 13921, Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth.

Read the Full Statement: Aquaponics Association Aquaculture Statement, September 2020

The Executive Order’s attention to the amplification and development of U.S. aquaculture addresses the important goal of increasing the supply of domestic fish in our diets. However, the Executive Order’s method of achieving this goal risks severe negative consequences.

We do not support the de-regulation of off-shore fishing proposed as a means to boost production. Prioritizing short-term gains over meaningful, long-term viability of aquaculture is contrary to the spirit of the industry aquaculturists have worked so hard to build. Past implementations of largely unmitigated off-shore aquaculture are well correlated with the detriment of the overall fishing supply and environmental health of our waters.

Recirculating, Inland, and Aquaponic culture arose, in many cases, from our desire to conduct aquaculture in both an environmentally and financially sustainable manner.

We propose the following actions to expand domestic fish production in a safe, sustainable manner:

  1. Recognize Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), Freshwater Pond, and Aquaponic seafood culture as sectors of co-equal importance to marine culture. 
  2. Establish regular lines of contact between the NOAA Fisheries offices, Regional Aquaculture Center network, USDA Extension Services, and the USDA Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. 
  3. Continue to support regulation and oversight of American marine aquaculture to ensure the long-term safety and viability of our natural waters.

Please see the full statement for more details.

This Statement was prepared by Lucien Blakemore and Regina Greuel Cook of Symbiotic Aquaponic, an Affiliate Member of the Aquaponics Association. 

Contacts:
Brian Filipowich, Chairman
Aquaponics Association
[email protected]

Regina Greuel Cook, Vice President
Symbiotic Aquaponic
[email protected]

Do you want to support Aquaponics?

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that cultivates aquaponics through education, advocacy, and connection. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause.

Benefits of Membership include:

  • Regular newsletters
  • Access to Aquaponics Association Members Forum with chat groups and direct messages
  • Ability to participate in working groups to move aquaponics forward: 1) Commercial Aquaponics; 2) Community Aquaponics; 3) Aquaponics in STEM Education; and 4) Aquaponics Research
  • Exclusive web content like checklists, best practices, conference presentations and full conference videos from top experts
  • Legislative & Regulatory Updates
  • Special Member Discounts

Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Infrastructure to connect aquaponic growers from around the world
  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new fields
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: General Membership

 

Food Safety un-Scrambled

Food Safety un-Scrambled; Aquaponic Guide to Food Safety and Organics

Aquaponic, Hydroponic and Aquaculture farms can and do earn food safety and organic certifications.

By:  Juli Ogden, The Farm Plan President,  Farmer and GLOBALG.A.P. Farm Assurer

The Farm Plan is an Affiliate Member of the Aquaponics Association

(Juli will be presenting at The 2020 Aquaponics Conference October 16-18, learn more: 2020 Conference Website.)

 

Let’s Start with Food Safety’s Bottom Line

The bottom-line in food safety is to stop cross contamination between animals, water, manure, people and materials.  

When cross contamination happens, people become ill.  Children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are commonly affected first.  Sometimes people die. 

More than 20 years ago, in response to a number of deaths, German retailers began asking for proof that crops were safely grown.  This movement spread across Germany and then Europe, eventually circling the earth. 

Today, in order to sell their crops to large buyers, farms around the world need a food safety certificate. The largest farm certification program is GLOBALG.A.P. but the rules are written in highly technical language with zero instructions.  Food safety documentation and certification is an over-whelming burden for already overworked farms. 

The important step is to prove you grow safe and healthy food.  Most farms are much closer to ready than they think!  They have some cleanup, organization, and worker training to do.  Many chemical storage areas need basic improvements.  With the right guidance, it all becomes clear.

OVERVIEW

When the Aquaponic Association invited me to create a comparison of food safety certification options for aquaponic farms; it sounded pretty simple.  You have probably had similar ‘less than realistic’ thoughts.  This topic is an entangled mass of programs with no clear direction. Once you read each program’s overview, I will offer supporting facts and personal experiences. 

Most farms harbor some fear about food safety audits.  For aquaponic farms this is emphasized.  Your industry is a ‘teenager’.  Your fears are increased by the very factor that makes your farming model  so efficient. Your grow large crops in a small footprint, even inside industrial buildings, use limited amounts of water and greenhouse crops are protected from most animal and bird contamination.

So many positives.  So why is it scary?  It’s the public’s perception of fertilizing crops with live fish.  Information is often the best solution to fear. 

Know that the fish component of your farm is easily dealt with in certification.  Fish waste is not treated as manure.  According to a letter received from a large organic certifier, “The NOP (National Organic Program) Standards specifically exclude all aquatic animals from the definition of livestock and since the definition of manure only pertains to material produced by livestock, fish waste, as produced in an aquaponic system is not determined to be raw manure and there are no pre-harvest interval requirements.”   

That was a bit hard to read, but effectively, is says that fish poop is not ‘manure’!  Manure is the basis for many rules in both food safety and organics.  I have this documented.

Farmers around the world are uncomfortable and downright angry with food safety’s increased regulation, extra work, and extra expense.  It feels unreasonable when crop quality is how the farm survives.  Why should a farmer report how much water they use when farming is much like Goldilocks and the Three Bears?  Water use must be “just right” for a quality crop. That is not the only regulation that’s frustrating.  Many of those rules were designed for farms in less developed regions, but they still apply to every farm worldwide program.

Buyers are educated in safe food. They demand it.  Large retailers and crop brokers demand a food safety certificate from processors who demand it from farms.  If that has not yet reached your farm, believe me, it will. 

So how do you meet all the rules and stay in business?  How do you know what is required, what your choices are, and what will work best for your situation?  I can tell you what I did to cover my cherry orchard when it became required in 2012, and how I’ve moved forward. 

First, let’s review program options.

NATIONAL  ORGANIC  PROGRAM  (NOP) 

Organic certification is a choice that may increase your profit line.  It is not a food safety program, but many required steps are duplicated in food safety.  When following a food safety and organic program “do it once and use it twice” is an honest win for all.

The National Organic Program certifies crops grown with no prohibited substances such as most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic crops offer consumer health benefits and often sell for higher prices than conventional crops. An annual audit is required.  Organic farming on aquaponic farms is quite simple. Use only pre-approved materials and additives, keep good records, maximize biological activity and other techniques to manage weeds, insects and diseases.

FOOD SAFETY MODERNIZATION ACT (FSMA) 

FSMA is the only legally required food safety program that applies to certain crops grown in or imported to the U.S.  Crops eaten raw that do not go through a processing “kill step” such as cooking are covered by this rule.  The list of covered crops is long.  Crops which do go through a “kill step” are not required to follow the FSMA. 

  1. The first rule to recognize is that at least one person per farm must have earned a “Produce Safety Alliance” certificate and act as the trainer for the farm’s workers.    This is the total of all crops, human, and animal feed – not just “ready to eat” crop income.
  2. Farms” required to meet the rule include may grow, handle, process and/or store crops.
  3. Crops typically eaten raw, such as cherries, but sold 100% to a processor using a “kill step” (cooking, for instance) may become FSMA exempt.
  4. Water testing rules, as defined by FSMA, are under challenge from the farming industry and are “on hold for further review”. (Food safety certification also requires water testing.)
  5. A.P. certified farms may be less likely to be FSMA inspected.
  6. Farms with 3 year averaged annual income under $25,000, are FSMA exempt.
  7. Every farm has a “trainer” who attended a FSMA training course. They are responsible for on-farm FSMA training.

 

FOOD SAFETY CERTIFICATION PROGRAMS

You many notice food safety program names tend to end in G.A.P.  This is the acronym for Good Agricultural Practices.  The alphabetical program list that follows is really where your choices begin.  You will choose ONE food safety program. 

CANADAGAP is a well-accepted Canadian food safety program. There is annual fee, but commonly only a 4-year audit cycle.  Aquaponic farmers were at a loss over CanadaGAP’s 2019 decision to not certify aquaponic farms as of 2020Canadian farmers can jump this hurdle by certifying under GLOBALG.A.P. IFA.

  • GLOBALA.P. is the most widely accepted, GFSI approved food safety certification program in the world, with more than with more than two-hundred thousand certifications in 135 countries. GLOBALG.A.P. certified farms take very few extra steps to meet FSMA rules.  Integrated Farm Assurance (IFA) is the most often required, top level food safety certification for aquaculture, fruit and vegetable farms and covers growing, harvesting, and handling (washing, sorting, packing, storing, etc.).  GLOBALG.A.P. certified sites meet the universal food safety standards endorsed and accepted by the largest retailers worldwide.  An annual audit required.
  • PRIMUS-GFS is a well-respected GFSI approved food safety certification program. Primus GFS certified sites meet the universal food safety standards endorsed and is accepted by the largest retailers worldwide. They have something over twenty-thousand current certifications.  An annual audit required.
  • SQF is a GFSI approved food safety certification program that offers certification to confirm an organization produces, processes, prepares and handles food products to the highest possible standards globally. Emphasis seems to be placed on certifying large processing facilities.   This author is not aware of any aquaponic farms certified under this food safety standard but it does appear to be possible.  An annual audit required.
  • USDA GAP HARMONIZED standard is approved and accepted by many retailers who require a GFSI certified standard. Audits are performed in (at least) the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.  Aquaponics may only certify under the Harmonized Program. An annual audit required.

ADDITIONAL PROGRAMS SOMETIMES REQUIRED BY CROP BUYERS

  • SOP – STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES are written performance guides for each farm and facility process. SOP’S are a requirement for organic certification and some large crop buyers. Audits may or may not be required by the crop buyer.
  • HACCP – HAZARD ANALYSIS AND CRITICAL CONTROL POINTS “pinpoints” each farm process with a high food safety risk, performs an analysis of the risk and creates a management plan to ensure the problem does not happen. This is required by some crop buyers in addition to FSMA, GLOBALA.P. and /or National Organic Program Certification.
  • GOOD MANUFACTURING PRACTICES are similar to the SOP and HACCP above. It ensures products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards by minimizing risks.  This program often goes hand-in-hand with HACCP. Audits may or may not be required by your buyer.

IN MY EXPERIENCE

In 2012 I was required to GLOBALG.A.P certify my cherry crop. Those regulations did not include a single instruction.  How is a busy farmer, already wearing a dozen hats, supposed to get this job done with no guidance?. I outlined all 325 pages of complicated, overly academic regulation, page by page and the result was a rough food safety program.  My packhouse field man saw what I had done and had me to help the rest of his growers.  The gratitude for that training paved my path into food safety support.

Meeting the rules of food safety is not that hard when you know what they are.  The top points are to:

  • Protect your crop from cross contamination.
  • Protect your workers and the environment
  • Keep the farm clean and organized.
  • Keep track of certain jobs.
  • Answer it, now prove it is my mantra when setting up food safety.

By:  Juli Ogden, The Farm Plan President,  Farmer and GLOBALG.A.P. Farm Assurer

In an industry known for its complexity Juli is pioneering a way of doing things that is within reach of every farmer, no matter how small or how large. (BM)

On and off the farm with Juli Ogden:  Juli is happily married, still works on her farm but focuses on food safety consulting and public presentation.  She was a professional real estate expert, author and radio show host for Business Talk Radio and Lifestyle Talk Radio.  At the age of 32, Juli was named Washington State Small Businesswoman of the Year.  Juli is an industry acknowledged food safety expert and public speaker.

Do you want to support Aquaponics?

The Aquaponics Association is a nonprofit that cultivates aquaponics through education, advocacy, and connection. Please consider a General Membership to support this cause.

Benefits of Membership include:

  • Regular newsletters
  • Access to Aquaponics Association Members Forum with chat groups and direct messages
  • Ability to participate in working groups to move aquaponics forward: 1) Commercial Aquaponics; 2) Community Aquaponics; 3) Aquaponics in STEM Education; and 4) Aquaponics Research
  • Exclusive web content like checklists, best practices, conference presentations and full conference videos from top experts
  • Legislative & Regulatory Updates
  • Special Member Discounts

Membership fees also support:

  • Development and promotion of materials to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of aquaponics!
  • Development of industry standards and best practices
  • Infrastructure to connect aquaponic growers from around the world
  • Strategic partnerships to expand aquaponics into new fields
  • Ability to speak with one voice to policy-makers and regulators on issues like Organic certification, food safety certification, and agriculture policy
  • Resources to improve aquaponic growers’ skills, growing capacity, and business opportunities
  • Resources to cultivate and develop aquaponics as an emerging green industry

Learn more: General Membership

Food Safety and E. coli in Aquaponic and Hydroponic Systems

This document is The Aquaponics Association’s response to a recent publication on E. coli in Aquaponic and Hydroponic systems.

PDF Version: Food Safety and E. Coli in Aquaponic and Hydroponic Systems

April 27, 2020

By Tawnya Sawyer; Nick Savidov, PhD; George Pate; and Marc Laberge 

Overview of the Study

On April 6, 2020, Purdue Agriculture News published a story about a study related to the contamination risk of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in Aquaponic and Hydroponic production. The full study was published in MDPI Journal Horticulturae in January 2020.

Researchers conducted the study from December 2017 through February 2018. The Study consisted of side-by-side aquaponic and hydroponic systems in a controlled environment lab growing lettuce, basil, and tomatoes with tilapia. The purpose of the study was to identify the food safety risks associated with soilless systems. The study indicates that both the aquaponic and hydroponic systems contained Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) at the time of sampling. It did not find the presence of Listeria spp., or Salmonella spp. 

The authors contend that the aquaponic system and specifically the fish feces were likely the sources of E. coli. However, we believe that there is no evidence to prove that this was the actual source of contamination since the authors admit traceback was not performed, and there were several other possible introductions.

The pathogen was present in the water and on the root system of the plants. The researchers did not detect it in the edible portion of the plants. However, if the water is positive for a contaminant, and it accidentally splashes onto the edible portion of the crop throughout its life, or during harvest, this could still result in a food safety concern.

History of E. coli in Soil-less growing systems 

Until now, researchers have only discovered environmental E. coli in soilless growing systems. It is essential to note that there are hundreds of types of non-fecal coliform bacteria in the air, water, soil, as well as the fecal coliform bacteria represented mostly by E.coli in the waste of all mammals, humans, and some birds. A vast majority of these coliforms are perfectly harmless.

The E. coli found in this Study — Shiga toxin-producing O157:H7 — historically has been associated with warm-blooded mammals, more specifically bovine fed corn in feedlots (Lim JY et al. 2007), as well as swine and turkeys. Further research must be performed to prove that cold-blooded, non-mammal aquatic species such as tilapia can harbor this strain of pathogenic E. coli. A wide group of studies, university professors and industry professionals currently refute the possibility that tilapia can harbor this strain. The lack of evidence detailing the ability of aquatic animals to harbor E. coli makes the fish contaminated with this specific strain of bacteria very rare and suspect.

Many foodborne illnesses from fresh produce such as romaine lettuces, green onions, herbs, and sprouts, are traced back to the soil; the irrigation water used in these crops (Solomon et al. 2002); the seed stock; or poor sanitation in handling facilities.

There are a wide variety of community and commercial aquaponic and hydroponic growing facilities that routinely perform pathogen testing and have not identified this pathogen present. If it was present, traceback procedures would be followed to identify and remove the source, as well as any necessary food safety precautions and recalls performed.

Our Position

The Aquaponic Association and its members agree that food safety and proper handling practices are critical to commercializing our industry and the safety of our customers. One thing that the study points out is that a contaminant can occur in a soilless system, which creates a potential food safety concern. We agree on this; however, we have numerous concerns with the procedures and statements made in the publication.

We have reached out to the professional investigator on this study Hye-Ji Kim to get answers to essential questions that the study publication does not adequately address. There are significant gaps and questions with the study.

 Concerns About the Study Findings and Publication 

Lack of Traceability

The study group is unsure how the pathogen was introduced into the two systems. They admit that no traceback was performed to identify the source of contamination. They speculate both in the study and in their email response that this pathogen was:

1) Accidentally introduced

2) That it is from the fish feces in the aquaponics system that splashed into the hydroponic system through the open top of the fish tank during feeding,

3) that it was from contaminated fish stock (which were provided by the Purdue Animal Sciences Research and Education Center)

4) That it was human contamination from visitors or operator handling issues.

A traceback was not conducted as it was not within the scope of the study (Kim personal communications). We disagree; the discovery of O157:H7 strain in the university greenhouse with the suspicion of fish being contaminated should have resulted in immediate action in order to track down the source of contamination and prevent infection of the university students and staff. Outside of a University setting, traceback would have been mandatory in a commercial facility. It is questionable that the University did not perform these procedures because it was “out of the scope of the study”.

Questioning Fish Feces as the Source of Contamination

Blaming fish feces as the contaminating source seems incredibly misleading when so many other options exist, and no traceback proved that as the source. The contents of the fish intestines were tested for the presence of E. coli, and none was found (Kim personal communications). It seems that if the fish does not have STEC E. coli inside its gut, then it is more likely the fish feces being positive would be related to the contaminated water that the feces was floating in.

In wild fish species, levels of E. coli appear to follow trends similar to ambient water and sediment concentrations; as concentrations in their environments rise, so do concentrations within the fish (Guillen et al., 2010).

Furthermore, it seems very suspect that a two-month-old system in a controlled environment lab could have been so quickly contaminated. It is well-known that E.coli cannot survive in a biologically-active environment, such as an anaerobic digester or aquaponic system (T.Gao et al., 2011). E. coli are outcompeted by other microorganisms, which adapted to survive in the environment outside animal guts much better than E. coli. Thus, E. coli O157:H7, which is specially adapted to live in cattle guts, will inevitably be replaced by other microorganisms.

As for the hydroponic system showing positive results, this also seems suspect if the nutrients were synthetic, as there would be very little chance for the E. coli to survive without a biological host or continuous contamination source being present. An accidental exposure in the hydroponic system would have become diluted over time, or the pathogen died off to the point that they would have been undetectable. The fact is the organic matter in hydroponics is virtually absent and, therefore, provides a poor environment for E. coli growth and propagation (Dankwa, 2019). Therefore. one would need a continuous source, not an accidental one (like splashing), in order to maintain the E. coli population in hydroponics.

Since both systems were contaminated, we suggest that there is a more likely common pathogen source that the researchers did not correctly identify and remove. The source of contamination could be from source water, filtering system, repurposed equipment, airborne in the greenhouse or HVAC system, human vector, lab equipment, the seed stock, nutrients, or other inputs.

The Purdue Animal Research and Education Center, where the researchers sourced the fish, is an operation that also has swine, cattle, and poultry production. Research suggests that pathogenic E. coli can travel 180 m through airborne exposure (Berry et al., 2015). Airborne exposure poses a more significant risk to controlled environments as pathogens can persist in the HVAC system (Riggio et al., 2019). STEC has the potential to live in dust particles for up to 42 weeks, which can act as a possible vector of contamination if there is a continuous source. Therefore, even a slight possibility of the pathogenic Shiga-producing O157:H7 strain of E. coli transfer from the Animal Research and Education Center resulting in the uncontrolled cross-contamination of other research labs and facilities certified below Biosafety level 2 not designed to work with the pathogenic bacteria would raise a serious concern about the existing safety practices (Boston University).

Lack of 3rd Party or Peer University Test Verification

It has also been recognized that there is a high frequency of false-positive signals in a real-time PCR-based “Plus/Minus” assay (Nowrouzian FL, et al., 2009). Hence the possibility that the PCR verification method may have resulted in inaccurate results. The pathogen was not verified by a 3rd party lab to be actual STEC E.coli O157:H7. Only positive or negative results were obtained for this study.

We recommend several other universities and third-party labs to run samples and validate the results. However, no samples have been provided, which may be impossible to obtain based on the study being conducted in early 2018. Without this verification, there are questions about the possibility of false-positives due to the presence of environmental E.coli, fecal coliforms, or a wide variety of other bacteria commonly found in nutrient-rich environments (Konstantinidis et al., 2011).

Impact of Sterilization

The study conclusion suggests that sterilization efforts are critical. “Our results indicated that contamination with bacterial pathogens could likely be reduced in aquaponic and hydroponic systems if the entire systems were thoroughly sanitized before each use and pathogen-free fish were used for the operation.” This statement is inaccurate and could be detrimental to proper food safety practices. As the microflora of the system develops, it creates an environment that can suppress phytopathogens (Bartelme et al., 2018) and other zoonotic pathogens as a result of antibiotic compounds released by beneficial bacteria (Compant et al., 2005). In Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), some microbial communities take over 15 years to develop (Bartelme et al., 2017), resulting in greater stability over time.

Many papers support this hypothesis with regards to probiotics in wastewater treatment, aquaculture, and hydroponics. Microbial community analysis also depicts a greater microbial diversity in aquaponics over decoupled or aquaculture systems (Eck et al., 2019), indicating a more significant potential for suppression of pathogens in coupled aquaponic systems over RAS or decoupled aquaponic system. No pathogens were discovered in a mature coupled aquaponics system during 18 years of continuous research in Canada since 2002 (Savidov, personal communications).

These findings support the argument that more biologically mature systems are less likely to develop pathogens and that periodic sanitation should not be done outside of initial start-up unless a zoonotic pathogen (Henderson 2008), is detected. If a pathogen is found, producers should follow proper sanitation and recall procedures.

Conclusion

Overall, this and other research into food safety are ongoing, and new information becomes available continuously to help shape the best practices for proper greenhouse management. As the Aquaponic Association, we hope to provide the most accurate and reliable resources for this purpose. At the same time, we hope to reduce the possibility of studies like this creating unnecessary fear, or unsubstantiated claims that could harm the growth of the aquaponic (and hydroponic) industry. When a document like this is published, it will be quoted by the media, and referenced in other studies as if it is an absolute. Other research must be performed to validate or negate this study’s outcomes.

Our findings conclude that while there is a low chance of the persistence of a pathogen in properly designed aquaponic and hydroponic systems, there is still a potential concern. No agricultural system is immune to this. Compared to soil production, soil-less crops grown in a controlled environment are far less likely to become infected pathogens from mammals, birds and other creatures which are difficult to prevent in field crop production. Human contamination or poor handling practices are of significant concern (Pattillo et al., 2015). The best way to avoid risk is to adhere to food safety guidelines set forth by the USDA, GlobalGAPs, the Aquaponic Association, and other accredited organizations.

contact: [email protected]

References

Bartelme, R.P., McLellan, S.L., Newton, R.J., 2017. Freshwater Recirculating Aquaculture System Operations Drive Biofilter Bacterial Community Shifts around a Stable Nitrifying Consortium of Ammonia-Oxidizing Archaea and Comammox Nitrospira. Front. Microbiol. 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2017.00101

Bartelme, R.P., Oyserman, B.O., Blom, J.E., Sepulveda-Villet, O.J., Newton, R.J., 2018. Stripping Away the Soil: Plant Growth Promoting Microbiology Opportunities in Aquaponics. Front. Microbiol. 9, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.00008

Berry, E.D., Wells, J.E., Bono, J.L., Woodbury, B.L., Kalchayanand, N., Norman, K.N., Suslow, T.V., López-Velasco, G., Millner, P.D., 2015. Effect of Proximity to a Cattle Feedlot on Escherichia coli O157:H7 Contamination of Leafy Greens and Evaluation of the Potential for Airborne Transmission. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 81, 1101–1110. https://doi.org/10.1128/AEM.02998-14

Compant, S., Duffy, B., Nowak, J., Clément, C., Barka, E.A., 2005. Use of Plant Growth-Promoting Bacteria for Biocontrol of Plant Diseases: Principles, Mechanisms of Action, and Future Prospects. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 71, 4951–4959. https://doi.org/10.1128/AEM.71.9.4951-4959.2005

Dankwa, A.S., 2019. Safety  Assessment of Hydroponic Closed System 127. https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4052&context=etd

Eck, M., Sare, A., Massart, S., Schmautz, Z., Junge, R., Smits, T., Jijakli, M., 2019. Exploring Bacterial Communities in Aquaponic Systems. Water 11, 260. https://doi.org/10.3390/w11020260

Guillen, Wrast, Environmental Institute of Houston, 2010, Fishes as Sources of E. coli Bacteria in Warm Water Streams, https://www.uhcl.edu/environmental-institute/research/publications/documents/10-015guillenetalfishreport.pdf

Henderson, H., 2008. Direct and indirect zoonotic transmission of Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 232, 848–859. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.232.6.848

Konstantinidis, Chengwei Luo, 2011. Georgia Tech Institute, Environmental E. coli: New way to classify E. coli bacteria and test for fecal contamination, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110411152527.htm

Lim JY et al., Escherichia coli O157:H7 colonization at the rectoanal junction of long-duration culture-positive cattle. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007;73:1380–1382 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1828644/

Boston University Agent Sheet E.coli EHEC or STEC) (https://www.bu.edu/researchsupport/safety/rohp/agent-information-sheets/e-coli-0157h7-agent-information-sheet/).

Nowrouzian FL1, Adlerberth I, Wold AE., 2009 High frequency of false-positive signals in a real-time PCR-based “Plus/Minus” assay. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19161539

Riggio, G., Jones, S., Gibson, K., 2019. Risk of Human Pathogen Internalization in Leafy Vegetables During Lab-Scale Hydroponic Cultivation. Horticulturae 5, 25. https://doi.org/10.3390/horticulturae5010025

Solomon et al., Effect of Irrigation Method on Transmission to and Persistence

of Escherichia coli O157:H7 on Lettuce Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 65, No. 4, 2002, Pages 673–676 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11952218

  1. Gao*, T. Haine,  A. Chen,  Y. Tong, and X. Li, 2011, 7 logs of toxic strain of E coli  were removed by mesophilic AD process while ~ 5 logs increase of the strain were seen in water control with the same condition for 7 days

Pattillo*, Shaw, Currey, Xie, Rosentrater, 2015, Aquaponics Food Safety and Human Health, https://southcenters.osu.edu/sites/southc/files/site-library/site-documents/abc/aquaponics_workshop/AquaponicsFoodSafetyandHumanHealthAllenPatillo.pdf

 

2019 Aquaponics Food Safety Statement

The Aquaponics Association presents the 2019 Aquaponics Food Safety Statement, signed by over 130 organizations, including 98 from the U.S. This statement explains the food safety credentials of produce grown in aquaponic systems.

PDF version: 2019 Aquaponics Food Safety Statement

December 9, 2019
Aquaponics Food Safety Statement

Established Science Confirms Aquaponic Fish and Produce are Food Safe

Aquaponics is a food production method integrating fish and plants in a closed, soil-less system. This symbiotic relationship mimics the biological cycles found in nature. Aquaponics has been used as a farming technique for thousands of years and is now seeing large-scale viability to feed a growing global population.

Benefits of aquaponics include dramatically less water use; no toxic chemical fertilizers or pesticides; no agriculture discharge to air, water or soil; and less food miles when systems are located near consumers where there is no arable soil.

Aquaponics has consistently proven to be a safe method to grow fresh, healthy fish, fruits, and vegetables in any environment. Governments and food safety certifiers must utilize the most current, accurate information to make food safety decisions about aquaponics at this time when our food systems adapt to a growing population and environmental concerns.

Food Safety Certification for Aquaponics

For years, commercial aquaponic farms have obtained food safety certification from certifying bodies such as Global GAP, USDA Harmonized GAP, Primus GFS, and the SQF Food Safety Program. Many aquaponic farms are also certified USDA Organic. These certifying bodies have found aquaponics to be a food safe method for fish, fruits, and vegetables. As far back as 2003, researchers found aquaponic fish and produce to be consistently food safe (Rakocy, 2003; Chalmers, 2004).  Aquaponic fish and produce continue to be sold commercially across North America following all appropriate food safety guidelines.

Recent Certification Changes Based on Unfounded Concerns

Recently, Canada GAP, a food safety certifier, announced that it will phase out certification of aquaponic operations in 2020, citing concerns about the potential for leafy greens to uptake contaminants found in aquaponic water.

Correspondence with Canada GAP leadership revealed that the decision to revoke aquaponics certification eligibility was based on research and literature surveys related to the uptake of pharmaceutical and pathogenic contaminants in hydroponic systems. However, these concerns are unfounded based on the established evidence.

First, the Canada GAP decision assumes that aquaponic growers use pharmaceuticals to treat fish, and that these pharmaceuticals would be taken up by plants causing a food safety risk.

In fact, pharmaceuticals are not compatible with aquaponics. Aquaponics represents an ecosystem heavily dependent on a healthy microorganism community (Rinehart, 2019; Aquaponics Association, 2018). The pharmaceuticals and antibiotics referenced by Canada GAP would damage the beneficial microorganisms required for aquaponics to function properly.

Second, the CanadaGAP decision misrepresents the risk of pathogenic contamination. Aquaponic produce – like all produce – is not immune to pathogenic contamination. However, aquaponics is in fact one of the safest agriculture methods against pathogenic risk. Most pathogenic contamination in our modern agriculture system stems from bird droppings, animal infestation, and agriculture ditch or contaminated water sources. In contrast, commercial aquaponic systems are “closed-loop” and usually operated in controlled environments like greenhouses. Almost all operations use filtered municipal or well water and monitor everything that enters and leaves the system.

Aquaponics and Food Safety

If practiced appropriately, aquaponics can be one of the safest methods of food production. The healthy microbes required for aquaponics serve as biological control agents against pathogenic bacteria. (Fox, 2012) The healthy biological activity of an aquaponic system competitively inhibits human pathogens, making their chances for survival minimal. This is, in effect, nature’s immune system working to keep our food safe, rather than synthetic chemicals.

The Government of Alberta, Canada ran extensive food safety tests in aquaponics from 2002 to 2010 at the Crop Diversification Centre South (CDC South) and observed no human pathogenic contamination during this entire eight-year period (Savidov, 2019, Results available upon request). As a result of this study, the pilot-scale aquaponic operation at CDC South was certified as a food safe operation in compliance with Canada GAP standards in May 2011 (GFTC OFFS Certification, May 26, 2011). Similar studies conducted by University of Hawaii in 2012 in a commercial aquaponic farm revealed the same results. (Tamaru, 2012)

Current aquaponic farms must be able to continuously prove their food safety. The U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act requires farms to be able to demonstrate appropriate mitigation of potential sources of pathogenic contamination as well as water testing that validates waters shared with plants are free from contamination by zoonotic organisms. So, if there is a food safety concern in aquaponics, food safety certifiers will find and document it.

Conclusion

The recent certification decision from Canada GAP has already set back commercial aquaponic operations in Canada and has the potential to influence other food safety certifiers or create unfounded consumer concerns. At a time when we need more sustainable methods to grow our food, it is essential to work on greater commercial-government collaboration and scientific validation to ensure fact-based food safety standards.

In order to expand the benefits of aquaponics, we need a vibrant commercial sector. And for commercial aquaponics to succeed, we need reliable food safety certification standards based on established science.

Consumers can feel secure knowing that when they purchase aquaponic fish and produce, they are getting fresh food grown in one of the safest, most sustainable methods possible.

Sincerely,

The Aquaponics Association, along with the undersigned entities

UNITED STATES

Alabama
Gardens on Air – A Local Farm, Inc.
Southern Organics

California
AONE Aquaponics
Fresh Farm Aquaponics
Go Fish Farm
SchoolGrown Aquaponics
Seouchae Natural Farming
Shwava, Inc.
University of California, Davis

Colorado
The Aquaponic Source
Bountyhaus School Farms
Colorado Aquaponics
Dahlia Campus for Health and Wellness Aquaponic Farm
Ecoponex Systems International LLC
Emerge Aquaponics
Flourish Farms @ The GrowHaus
Grand Valley Greens, LLC
GroFresh Farms 365
Northsider Farms LLC

Connecticut
Marine Bait Wholesale

Delaware
Aquaponics AI

Florida
The Aquaponics Doctors, Inc.
Aquaponic Lynx LLC
The Family Farm
GreenView Aquaponics, LLC
Sahib Aquaponics
Traders Hill Farm

Georgia
FM Aquaponic Farm
Georgia Aquaponic Produce LLC
TRC Aquaponics
Teachaman.fish
Ula Farms

Hawaii
Friendly Aquaponics, LLC

Idaho
FoodOlogy

Illinois
Central Illinois Aquaponics

Kentucky
Janelle Hager, Kentucky State University
K&L Organics
Purple Thumb Farms
West KY Aquaponics

Louisiana
Small Scale Aquaponics

Massachusetts
Aquaponics Academy
Lesley University
O’Maley Innovation Middle School

Maryland
Anne Arundel Community College
Greenway Farms, LLC

Missouri
Www.PlentyCare.Org

Minnesota
Menagerie Greens Inc.

North Carolina
Grace Goodness Aquaponics Farm, LLC
100 Gardens

New Hampshire
University of New Hampshire

New York
iGrow News
Oko Farms

New Mexico
Desert Verde Farm
Growing the Greens
High Desert Aquaponics
Howling Coyote Farms
Lettuce, Etc. LLC
Openponics
Project Urban Greenhouse
Sanctuary at ABQ
Santa Fe Community College

Ohio
Berean Aquaponic Farms and Organics LLC
CHCA Eagle Farms
Wildest Farms
Williams Dairy Farms

Oklahoma
Freedom FFA
Greener Grounds LLC

Oregon
Alternative Youth Activity
Ingenuity Innovation Center
Live Local Organic
Triskelee Farm

Pennsylvania
Aquaponics at State High
Yehudah Enterprises LLC

Puerto Rico
Fusion Farms
Granja Ecologica Pescavida

Rhode Island
The Cascadia Bay Company

Tennessee
Great Head LLC

Texas
BioDiverse Technologies LLC
BnE Enterprises
East Texas Aquaponics, LLC
Gentlesoll Farm
HannaLeigh Farm
K&E Texan Landscaping
King’s Farm
Tarleton State University, Aquaponics Hydrotron
West Texas Organic Gardening

Utah
Aquaponics Olio
Wasatch High School

Virginia
Grace Aquaponics
INMED Partnerships for Children
Return to Roots Farm

Vermont
The Mill ART Garden, LLP

Washington
The Farm Plan
Impact Horizon, Co.
Life Tastes Good LLC
Northwest Aquaponics LLC
Wind River Produce

Washington, DC
Anacostia Aquaponics DC LLC
P.R. Harris Food Hub

AUSTRALIA

New South Wales
Wirralee Pastoral
Solum Farm

BHUTAN

Thimphu
Chhuyang – Aquaponics in Bhutan

BRAZIL

Rio Grande do Norte
Habitat Marte

Santa Catarina
Pedra Viva Aquicultura 

BULGARIA

Burgas
Via Pontica Foundation

CANADA

Alberta
Agro Resiliency Kit (ARK) Ltd.
Fresh Flavor Ltd
Lethbridge College
W.G. Guzman Technical Services

British Colombia
Garden City Aquaponics Inc.
Green Oasis Foods Ltd.
Pontus Water Lentils Ltd.

Ontario
Aquatic Growers
University of Guelph
Power From Within Clean Energy Society
GREEN RELIEF

Quebec
ML Aquaponics Inc

Yukon Territory
North Star Agriculture

EGYPT

Cairo
Central Laboratory for Aquaculture Research

FRANCE

Paca
Vegetal Grow Development

INDIA

Delhi
Prof Brahma Singh Horticulture Foundation, New Delhi

Karnataka
Blue’s and Green’s
Spacos Innovations Private Limited

ITALY

Turin
Grow Up 

MALAYSIA

Negeri Sembilan
BNS Aquafresh Farming

NIGERIA

Abuja
University of Abuja

PHILIPPINES

Nueva Ecija
Central Luzon State University

Metro Manila, NCR
IanTim Aquaponics Farm

PORTUGAL

Madeira
True Spirit Lda

ROMANIA

Sectors 2 & 4
Bucharest Association of Romanian Aquaponics Society

SAUDI ARABIA

Riyadh
Aquaponica

SENEGAL

Senegal
Ucad Dakar

SINGAPORE

Singapore
Aquaponics Singapore 

Contributors:
Brian Filipowich, Aquaponics Association
Juli Ogden, The Farm Plan
Dr. Nick Savidov, Lethbridge College
Tawnya Sawyer, The Aquaponic Source
Dr. R. Charlie Shultz, Santa Fe Community College
Meg Stout, Independent

Contact:
Brian Filipowich
[email protected]

 

 

References

Chalmers, 2004. Aquaponics and Food Safety. Retrieved from http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/Travis/Aquaponics-andFood-Safety.pdf

Filipowich, Schramm, Pyle, Savage, Delanoy, Hager, Beuerlein. 2018. Aquaponic Systems Utilize the Soil Food Web to Grow Healthy Crops. Aquaponics Association. https://aaasociation.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/soil-food-web-aug-2018.pdf

Fox, Tamaru, Hollyer, Castro, Fonseca, Jay-Russell, Low. A Preliminary Study of Microbial Water Quality Related to Food Safety in Recirculating Aquaponic Fish and Vegetable Production Systems. Publication of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, University of Hawaii, February 1, 2012.

Rakocy, J.E., Shultz, R.C., Bailey, D.S. and Thoman, E.S.  (2003). Aquaponic production of tilapia and basil:  comparing a batch and staggered cropping system.  South Pacific Soilless Culture Conference. Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Rinehart, Lee. Aquaponics – Multitrophic Systems, 2019. ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture. National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Tamaru, Fox, Hollyer, Castro, Low, 2012. Testing for Water Borne Pathogens at an Aquaponic Farm. Publication of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, University of Hawaii, February 1, 2012.

The Amazing Microbiology of Aquaponics

As our nation prepares to pass the once-every-5-year Farm Bill, let’s remember that aquaponic systems have been shown to have the same – if not more – quantity and diversity of rich microbiology as organic soil.

Check out our Aquaponics Food Web Report: Aquaponics food web aug 2018

Whether as a consumer, grower, policy-maker, or business owner, we all make decisions that affect
where and how our food is produced.

As we shape our new food system, one critical consideration is whether we retain access to high quality
fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those grown sustainably. We must assess whether new growing methods like aquaponics can deliver fruits and vegetables grown from seed with the same symbiotic biological processes used by plants since the dawn of time.

Our report shows that aquaponic systems feature a vibrant, thriving community of happy little micro-critters!