WASHINGTON, D.C. — Food advocates are ready to fight if President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress attempt to cut federal support for organic farms.
“There are some forces of darkness … coming together, thinking, ‘let’s sharpen the knives on organic,'” Kathleen Merrigan, who now leads food and sustainability initiatives as professor of public policy at George Washington University, said during a panel at the DC Food Tank summit Thursday.
The “forces of darkness,” mainly Republican budget hawks looking for ways to reduce spending and those who see the organic food movement as a fad, will not be successful, Merrigan predicts.
“I think they’re really just cruising for a bruising'” Merrigan said during a panel discussion about the next Farm Bill, which is due to be passed in 2018. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed for an historic $13 million of the Department of Agriculture’s budget to help farmers with organic certification costs and $20 million for organic research projects that year.
It’s not the food activists driving the organic movement at this point, but the consumers who are driving demand, according to Merrigan. “American consumers are very interested in organic,” Merrigan said, so much so that large and small non-organic farms are implementing innovative organic practices into into their methods. (RELATED: Obama Agriculture Secretary: Trump Can’t Make America Fat Again)
Trump said little about his plans for organic farming during the campaign, but his call to dramatically roll back regulations, gut the Environmental Protection Agency and cut the federal budget by $10.5 trillion over the next decade leave sustainable agriculture advocates worried that federal funding will dry up.
Federal funding of organic farms will be an issue as the Congress debates the next agriculture authorization act, referred to as the Farm Bill, which authorizes all the USDA’s programs — from commodity subsidies and crop insurance to nutrition assistance programs like food stamps, from science and research grants to small business development grants.
Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree echoed Merrigan on the importance of funding organic projects through the farm bill, and noted that the legislative budget process will be a fight between large agriculture interests and the smaller issues individual members care about.
“In the big picture, we’re talking about how to move the resources from the big commodity areas into things that we care about,” things like more support for small organic farms and farmers markets, Pingree said.
Each time the farm bill comes up, agriculture interests, activists and Congressional leaders battle for how the USDA’s budget gets allocated. Typically, the omnibus appropriations bill includes money and support for the pet projects of nearly every member of Congress to get support.
Pingree says the USDA should give more funding to research that helps small farmers grow sustainable, organic crops. “Part of the USDA’s reason for being is to support farmers in making a good living off the farm,” Pingree told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
In organic markets, “you get a better price, you’ve got longer-term viability for your farm, it’s less toxic for the farm,” Pingree said.
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