Thursday, October 1, 2009

Growing Organic Research

By Tracy Lerman

Tracy is the Policy Program Assistant for The Organic Farming Research Foundation. She will be leading a session during the Hazon CSA Leadership Track of the Food Conference on how to incorporate food advocacy and policy into your CSA.

Now that “green” is a marketing buzzword and organic food has broken free from its confines in hippie health food stores, available in major supermarket chains everywhere, we environmentalists can finally feel like we’ve arrived. The organic food movement is self-sufficient now. No longer must we worry over the fledgling movement like a nervous mother over her newborn baby. We can sit back and watch organic play in the big-kids playground with fat-free, instant, and all the other major marketing labels in the grocery retail industry.

Or can we? While consumer demand for organic food is rising (even during the current recession), the domestic supply cannot keep up. The nation’s ten thousand organic farmers – big operations and small family farms alike – cannot produce enough organic food for all of these newly conscious consumers, and food processors as well as retail stores rely increasingly on imports shipped in from as far away as China.

One reason for the disparity between organic demand and domestic supply is the lack of new information about organic agriculture. The U.S. spends billions of dollars on research and development of new pesticides, genetically-engineered seeds and chemical fertilizers, but very little on research to address production issues in organic farming systems. Conventional agriculture has the research backing of corporate chemical giants like Dow, Monsanto, Bayer and Genentech. Private sector organic research funding does not register on the same scale. In terms of public funding, the federal government spends less than two percent of its agriculture research budget on organic. This amount is growing compared to previous years, but when measured against the European Union’s organic research spending, we do not really hold a candle to them.

We are still light years away from growing enough organic food in the U.S. to meet current consumer demand. And that will not change until we start investing in the country’s organic farmers, starting with research that seeks to improve organic farming systems.

The good news is that consumers can make a difference, but not just by voting with your fork. Tell your members of Congress and the Obama administration to support increased funding for organic agriculture research. To find out more, visit

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