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Daily News Blog

16
Dec

Congressional Funding Available to Expand Organic Agriculture

(Beyond Pesticides, December 16, 2015)  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced  the availability of  funding to support  initiatives aimed at  improving organic agriculture. The funding, in the form of grants  totaling  $17.6 million,  is to support research and outreach activities to help organic growers, producers and processors find innovative ways to  advance  organic agriculture. Organic agriculture has grown tremendously over the last decade to a $35 billion dollar industry  to become  the fastest growing sector of agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary  Tom Vilsack made  the announcement  last week that  the grants,  made available  through the”¯Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative”¯(OREI) —a program that is administered by USDA’s downloadNational Institutes of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, will aid farmers and ranchers with whole farm planning by delivering  “practical  research-based information and will improve the ability of growers to develop  organic system plans”  as required for certification under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).  Applications are due March 10, 2016. Please see the”¯request for applications”¯for specific program requirements.

“Over the past six years, USDA has strengthened programs that support organic producers as they grow, thrive and respond to increasing consumer demand for organic products,” said  Secretary Vilsack. “The projects funded through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative will help identify innovative solutions to critical challenges facing organic agriculture, ultimately strengthening local markets, improving rural economies and expanding access to healthy food for Americans.”

According to the  press release issued by NIFA, the purpose of the OREI program is  “to fund high-priority research, education, and extension projects that enhance the ability of producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards to grow and market high quality organic products. Priority concerns include biological, physical, and social sciences, including economics.” Previous grants, amounting to $19 million in 2013 and $14 million in 2012, included  projects  investigating  the ecological role of wild birds on vegetable farmers, providing owners with practical, science-based recommendations for wild bird management. Other projects focused on looking at the cost and benefits of cover crop mixtures, and undergraduate organic education for next generation growers and researchers.

Reports cite  that consumption of  organic products has continued to increase at a monumental pace, and according to”¯a 2014 Gallup poll, nearly half of all U.S. adults “actively” seek to add organic food to their diets.  Recent studies  have found health benefits associated with eating an organic diet, including  higher levels of nutrients and antioxidants in organically grown produce, and  better quality milk.”¯  In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)  weighed in”¯on the organic food debate recognizing that lower pesticide residues in organic foods may be significant for children. The Academy also noted that choosing organic is based on”¯larger  environmental issues, as well as human health impacts”¯like pollution and global climate change.

However, the integrity of organic has been under threat. A recent legal suit filed earlier this year by Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety and Center for Environmental Health challenged  the National Organic Program’s (NOP)  failure to follow proper legal procedures”¯in making a substantial rule change that  allows  contaminants in compost. Similarly,  another lawsuit”¯brought by 15 farm, consumer and certifier organizations raised  a similar  procedural challenge”¯to a”¯rule change to the organic sunset process, which regulates synthetic chemical exceptions in organic production.  In  that  case,  USDA  took unilateral action to adopt a major policy change without public process, an action plaintiffs maintain violates a  foundational principle and practice of OFPA public participation in organic policy making and the standards of the Administrative Procedure Act.”¯See  Beyond  Pesticides’”¯Keeping Organic Strong”¯webpage to learn more about these and other issues.

Beyond Pesticides advocates in its organic food  program and through its”¯Eating with a Conscience  (EWAC)”¯website choosing organic because of the environmental and health benefits to consumers, workers, and rural families. For more information on the benefits of organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides’”¯Organic Food program page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: NIFA Newsroom  

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  • Archives

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