Stabenow to organic group: 'I have respect for all parts of agriculture'

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 22, 2014 - Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told organic industry representatives yesterday that coalition building would be essential to policymaking, warning organic and conventional proponents alike that they would need to lean across the agriculture aisle to achieve legislative successes like the last farm bill.

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Her goal in finishing the 2014 Farm Bill, Stabenow said at the Organic Trade Association (OTA) Policy Conference in Washington, was “to make sure investment in fastest part of agriculture wouldn't pit one group against another… We're going to support everybody.”

Stabenow recounted the tricky process of passing the agriculture legislation, which included winning the support of right-leaning groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) with provisions for hunters and left-leaning organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists with provisions to research and protect against climate change.

The farm bill is “only bill of mine that will probably be endorsed” by the NRA, Stabenow joked.

She told the organic industry representatives that they should expect to continue to build unexpected coalitions.

Referring to her support for organic farm bill programs, Stabenow told the audience to “continue to count me in.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who spoke at the OTA event yesterday, also noted his support for the organic industry. Organics are a “complement to traditional agriculture,” he said.

Vilsack urged the organic industry to establish its own check-off program. The 2014 Farm Bill granted the sector the ability to launch a research and marketing order separate from those conventional agriculture producers.

“You should take advantage of it,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack also weighed in on House Appropriations Committee's proposal to grant temporary waivers to cash-strapped schools that are finding it difficult to meet new, healthier school lunch standards.

“It's outrageous that we're stepping back from our commitment [to children],” Vilsack said. Maintaining the school lunch changes, which involve less full fat, sugar and salt and more fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy and whole grains, is the “right thing to do,” he said.

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