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Sustainable agriculture is under attack in the United States. At a time when the Bush administration is ballooning the U.S. defense budget to as much as $500 billion for the 2007 fiscal year (a massive 48% increase since 2001), it is also proposing to slash the modestly funded programs that help farmers transition from using pesticides to more sustainable or organic agriculture.
"These proposed cuts are shortsighted, because funding organics provides big bang for the buck for USDA," observed Mark Lipson, Policy Program Director at the Organic Farming Research Foundation. "Organic agriculture provides benefits for human health, rural development, the environment, and trade." While the U.S. market for organic products enjoys consistent annual growth of as much as 20% a year, Lipson points out that the United States is importing 90% more organic products than it exports. Lipson believes one reason is that U.S. farmers "are getting minuscule support for organic production," while other countries including Mexico and China are embracing the organic market trend.
The United States' food system is caught in a trap of pesticide use, and the way out of that trap is sustainable agriculture. Growers need information and support to transition to farming without pesticides, including practical field research on non-toxic techniques that work for various crops and ecosystems. Unfortunately, however, the Bush administration is making its annual move to cut federal funding for U.S. sustainable agriculture programs. To date, voters have rallied and called on their representatives to demand that these programs continue, and defeated the cuts. These calls are the only reason that funding for sustainable agriculture still exists in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget today.
The Bush administration is proposing a FY '07 USDA budget of $93 billion, with sustainable agriculture research and information programs are taking a disproportionately large hit. Congressional committee members are submitting their budget recommendations to committee chairs through Tuesday March 14th, providing a key window of opportunity for advocacy. Take action: contact your congressional representatives today!
Sustainable agriculture programs targeted for massive budget cuts or elimination include:
Defenders of organic research funding point out that to bring research funding to levels that reflect the market share of organic products in the United States, funding should enjoy at least a fourfold increase. "Cutting the Organic Transitions Program ignores the tremendous growth of organic agriculture and strong markets it offers farms nationwide," stated the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.
Something all three of the threatened programs have in common is that they directly serve farmers and address practical field research driven by farmers' needs. These means they offer little opportunity for lucrative biotech research contracts, which is perhaps one of the reasons they face constant threat. While the proposed USDA research budget totals $2.25 billion, the bulk of this money funds chemical and biotech-intensive agriculture, including the development of destructive technologies such as terminator seeds. The $27.9 million total requested by sustainable agriculture advocates to maintain these three programs is modest in light of the total proposed USDA budget.
National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. 2006. "Sustainable Agriculture Funding Is at Risk Again!" E-mail alert.
Organic Farming Research Foundation. 2005. "FY '06 Appropriations for Sustainable and Organic Agricultural Programs"
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.
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