On Wednesday, Sept. 15 2010, the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a hearing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Organic Foods Production Act.
RAFI’s Michael Sligh testified at this week’s hearing about the past and the future of organic agriculture in the United States. You can watch the entire hearing online. (Michael starts talking in the 86th minute). Here’s what Michael said:“Good morning, I am here today representing the National Organic Coalition, an alliance of farmers, environmentalists, consumers and businesses working to protect the integrity of organic, which is at the heart of continued consumer confidence. Thank you for this opportunity to celebrate the last 20 years of organic progress and to look to organic’s bright future. As it turns out, this has been a pretty long row to hoe for many of us from the beginnings to now but has been a very productive one. We have made real progress and this Organic Foods Production Act legislation still serves as a model for how to create a successful public/private partnership in a very vigorous, hyper-participatory and transparent way. There, of course have been many twist and turns, some serious failures to communicate and even some major lapses of fair play. However, not only has organic survived, it has actually thrived – against all odds. I believe this is because of this winning combination of strong farmer innovation and common sense with marketplace entrepreneurship, backed by very loyal consumers and coupled with sound federal policy. This combination has served us all very well. We do indeed have much to be proud of as organic emerges from the margins to the mainstream. Organic is global, with standards in nearly 60 countries with 20 years of continued brisk growth rates, with the US being the world’s largest organic market. Organic is even increasing yields for some of the world’s poorest farmers. To sum up, organic produces high yielding and high quality crops while reducing the adverse impacts on the environment and strengthening family farms. Organic is a success story with concrete benefits. Congress and USDA’s role has also been critical; landmark 2008 Farm bill provisions have increased organic certification cost-share, funding for organic research and access for organic farmers to crop insurance and conservation programs. While these many successes are exciting, as we look ahead, I believe the real potential of organic is still largely untapped. Organic is actually providing ag-based solutions to global problems of environmental degradation, climate change, food safety, and declines in health and quality of life. We must to shift our thinking to publicly recognize organic not just as marketing program, but as a food system delivering multiple societal benefits. To that end, we and our organic community partners have just completed a 5-year dialogue developing a road map for organic into the future. This National Organic Action Plan lays out concrete goals for the future of organic, such as:
- Continued doubling number of organic products, farms, and acres, while ensuring fair prices to farmers and workers,
- Expanding the research and training scope
- Expanding local organic seed production,
- Increasing local value-added processing infrastructure and
- Implementing fair crop insurance and contracts for organic farms, to mention a few.