Organic Farming: On the Decline?

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Locally-grown organic food has become a staple for any self-respecting liberal. Delicious, un-sprayed produce grown far from the clutches of industrial food processing corporations seems to be in its heyday.

Not so, according to the Heather Rogers's June cover story in the liberal magazine American Prospect. In her report, Rogers makes the claim that, while organic food may enjoy widespread support among consumers, economic and institutional factors may prevent the practice from becoming mainstream. There's nothing wrong with the food, writes Rogers, but the way it fits into the current milieu of agricultural policy.

Aside from the standard instability farmers must endure -- bad weather, pests, disease, and the vagaries of the market -- holistic and organic growers face great but often overlooked economic hardship. They must shoulder far higher production costs than their conventional counterparts when it comes to everything from laborers to land. Without meaningful support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their longevity hangs in the balance.

As a result, despite the sense of rapid growth, organic food may be on the decline. As Rogers writes, the arrival of the "eco-friendly, food-savvy" Obamas in Washington brought a resurgence in organic farming in the nation's agricultural priorities. "Wholesomeness and health were the message -- eating right, being environmentally responsible, enjoying nature...It looked like non-industrial food was poised to finally reclaim its place at America's dinner table." Unfortunately, holistic local farmers face significant institutional obstacles from the USDA and the foor market at large. "Sustainable agriculture proponents don't want to complain because finally they're getting something," notes Rogers.

While the public and organic advocates may be wooed by feel-good photo-ops, the fact is Obama has yet to get his hands dirty and truly commit to reforming the industry. The stakes are high: Unless the administration takes immediate steps to remake oligopolistic, fossil-fuel reliant, scorched-earth agriculture, the small farmers meant to lead the way will remain critically endangered."
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