Government Bytes


Food Safety Story Stirs Debate on Government and Organic Farming

by Diana Oprinescu / /

An outbreak of Hepatitis A infections caused by organic pomegranate seeds has reignited the debate around organic food safety and additional subsidies granted to the industry. As of July 15, over 140 people across eight states have been confirmed ill after consuming an organic-certified fruit mix imported from Turkey, reports the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The organic food industry has grown over recent years, marketing their products as healthier options than standard food. Since organic food can be more expensive than conventional products, the organic industry is seeking the redirection of more subsidies from traditional farming and toward organic outfits.

With the Hepatitis outbreak as a background, some voices are arguing that food safety problems are caused by the waste of taxpayer money on regulatory agencies that have systematically failed to conduct proper testing of organic products.  According to Mischa Popoff, currently a policy advisor for the Heartland Institute and former organic farmer, the USDA has never tested organic crops for contamination resulting from improper composting.

Furthermore, very few imported organic products are currently tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when they enter the United States. Popoff adds the USDA, which is in charge of this type of monitoring, can inspect organic food from abroad (in the country of origin!) as well as domestically through the voluntary organic program - but agents may not be executing thorough inspections. Others voice this concern by arguing that no further subsidies should be given to organic (nor to conventional) food, since sustainable agriculture can only be promoted through free economic competition.

Given this complex situation in regards to regulation of food, vigilant taxpayers will likely be more focused on the recent growth of government benefits granted to the organic industry through the Farm Bill.

The Senate Bill has been the friendliest thus far, explains Josh Sewell, senior policy analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense. For instance, under the old provisions, organic crops received less subsidy benefits because they were considered riskier, but potential losses were compensated as if organic farmers were growing non-organic food. The new bill improves organic crop insurance coverage and expands benefits from revenue insurance programs.

While both new House and the Senate Farm bills seek to close gaps between organic and non-organic producers by proposing additional funding for organic agricultural research and certified organic sectors, more direct handouts to any sector of agriculture will not improve the health of the budget, or consumer interests. Taxpayers already cover 62 percent of the cost of crop insurance policies.

With consumer demand on the rise and its market share expanding, the organic industry is becoming increasingly influential on Capitol Hill.