Anyone with an interest in how America’s food gets planted, grown, and sold should be following the development (registration required) of Congress’s farm bill, a massive—and massively influential—piece of government legislation covering all aspects of agricultural policy. The bill is rewritten every five years, with the next bill coming up for passage in 2008.
Along with food safety, the hot topic this year is organics. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on organic farmers’ efforts to get included alongside the “Big Agriculture” commodity growers that have long monopolized Congress’s mind-set toward American farming—and that have benefited most heavily from government subsidies.
As Chron writer Carolyn Lochhead notes,
Congressional farm bills have been dominated since the Great Depression by a handful of commodity crops such as corn, wheat and cotton, which last year received $25 billion in crop subsidies and billions more in research and marketing aid.
Right now, organic farmers are asking for government spending on research and education regarding organics, and better statistical collection to prove the increasing success of organics in the marketplace, allowing more farmers to receive bank loans to get into the biz. According to (PDF file) Mark Lipson of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, California, federal funding of organic research and education only began in 2001, and remains at less than 1 percent of the federal farm research budget.
The House Agricultural Subcommittee is accepting written testimony on the subject of government support of organic farming through April 28; more information is available here if you’ve got something to say.