NBJ Blog

Economy Could Threaten Future Organic Research Funding

Organic agriculture is growing around the globe, thanks to government backing and increased consumer demand. That was the finding from a new study by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL). Although the amount of land dedicated to organic agriculture has increased in the United States, it hasn’t grown as quickly as U.S. consumer demand, Mark Lipson, senior policy analyst for the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) told Nutrition Business Journal on February 20.

“A lot of the increase globally has been driven by government goals and support,” Lipson said. “In the United States, that has not been the case. The [2008] Farm Bill has started to change that, but we are still not at the point where the government is saying, ‘More organic agriculture is a good thing for America.’”

Winner of NBJ’s 2008 Organic Excellence Award, Lipson has been recognized by us and others for his tireless efforts to get important organic research funding into the 2008 Farm Bill, which is being touted as an important first step toward bringing U.S. organic farmers their fair share of government money.

Even though the bill has been signed into law, Lipson said the organic community must still do everything it can to “hold on to its Farm Bill money.” As he explained, $78 million in the bill was earmarked for organic agriculture research and education. However, should the agriculture department start running short on money for food stamps or other nutritional support programs—which is increasingly likely given the growing numbers of people losing their jobs and ability to pay for food—Uncle Sam could potentially use dedicated research money to shore up the deficit. “Fortunately, the stimulus bill addressed some of those concerns—but only for the current fiscal year.”

Part of the OFRF’s and the organic industry’s plan for defending against losing its hard-won research funding is to continue educating legislators about the public benefits of organic agriculture. But, as Lipson explained, the flagging economy is making even this more difficult. “The economy does just dominate all of the policy discussions, so any given goal or objective has to be framed in terms of what it will do for jobs and trade,” he said. “That is pushing other considerations like health and the environment to the side.”

While the economy is certainly posing many challenges for organic producers, Lipson said he is hopeful about what the next few years could mean for organic agriculture—particularly from a policy perspective. “For the last decade, the government has basically been very cautious not to say organic is better but rather that it is just a marketing choice or a lifestyle choice,” he said. “But I think the new administration will be more open to saying, ‘Organic is good for the environment and the economy, and there are good reasons for us to support growing the organic footprint in American agriculture.’”

NBJ’s March issue will be dedicated to the organic food and beverage industry, and will feature insights from leading organic “insiders,” such as Lipson. To order your copy of the issue, subscribe to NBJ or download a free sample issue of the journal, go to www.nutritionbusinessjournal.com.

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