Sam Farr, congressman of California’s 17th District, one of the United States’ major agricultural regions, is a longstanding organic food advocate. During the 1990s he penned America’s first organic standards laws as a California state assemblyman.
Currently he serves on the House of Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee and co-chairs the Congressional Organic Caucus, a group formed to promote organic agriculture. Recently, The New York Times Green Inc. blog interviewed him about organics and U.S. food safety. Here’s a bit:
Question: How did you first get interested in organic agriculture?
Answer: When I was in the California legislature in the ’80s, the organic growers, who were sort of the small hippie farmers in those days, brought it to my attention that there were no regulations on organic labeling. In essence, anybody could just grow a thing any way they wanted and put “organic” on it. So I carried the legislation creating the California organic act.
Question: Some environmentalists and others have called for the creation of a national Sustainable Agriculture Practice Standard that would go beyond organic certification. Do we need a better standard to measure how sustainable our food is?
Answer: It’s a lofty goal, but it seems on the academic side of any issue you need to have those lofty goals and you need some advocacy for it. Our area is, frankly, one that would be very interested. To make agriculture sustainable, the grower has got to be able to make a profit. There are a lot of market functions that I think prevent us from really becoming sustainable until we become, as a consuming society, more demanding that our food be fresh and nutritious and grown using practices that are not injurious to the environment.
Other government officials are making headways into organics, like Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who has been crusading for reform in America’s farming and new Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan and her passion for organic farming methods and environmental compassion.