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Activists demand organic funding

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Organic group says USDA should do more to aid industry


BY JERRY HAGSTROM


For the Capital Press


WASHINGTON -- Congress should increase mandatory spending on organic farming in the next farm bill to $185 million over five years to encourage the already-expanding industry, the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Organic Farming Research Foundation said this week.


The 2008 Farm Bill included $105 million in mandatory spending on organics, but Congress should increase the amount to $185 million to improve research, data collection and certification, Ariane Lotti, director of the foundation's Washington office, said at a news conference on Sept. 19.


Organic agriculture deserves a larger share of USDA funding because it is the fastest growing segment in agriculture, said Maureen Wilmot, executive director of the foundation, which is based in Santa Cruz, Calif.


"To date, only modest public resources have been directed toward funding and support of programs for organic farming," Wilmot said. "We would like to see that change immediately."


Wilmot and Lotti said that USDA does not provide the organic industry the same level of data collection services that it provides conventional agriculture and more research on organic agriculture and that growers still face costs and other barriers to becoming certified.


The organic food and textile sector is a $29 billion industry, according to the Organic Trade Association 2011 Organic industry Survey, Wilmot said. The organic industry grew 20 percent a year for 20 years and grew 8 percent in 2010 in the midst of a recession, she added. About 14,500 organic farmers have been certified, but the industry estimates that there will need to be 42,000 organic farmers to fulfill market demand by 2015.


Organic farming advocates from Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota and Ohio traveled to Washington this week to participate in training, lobby Congress and participate in today's day-long USDA Organic Listening Session, Wilmot said.


In its farm bill proposal, the foundation did not mention USDA's decision earlier this year to allow the planting of biotech alfalfa and to allow biotech crops up to the edge of fields. Lotti said the organic growers were disappointed, because it put all the responsibility for preventing infiltration on organic growers.


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has appointed a biotechnology committee to consider a compensation scheme for organic growers.


The foundation also released a letter that a wide range of organic groups sent Vilsack Sept. 16 asking that USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issue regulations on genetically engineered crops under the 2000 Plant Protection Act.


The groups said APHIS has been working on the regulations since 2004, but has not issued them.


A USDA spokesperson said late Monday that the agency "received a lot of input from the public and stakeholders on its proposed revisions to the regulations, and it is all under review as we determine a path forward."



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