Organic farmers in U.S. losing business to foreign growers

Organic is seen as a niche that helps smaller American farmers endure, but a sizeable chunk of the organic foods sold in the U.S. are being sourced from overseas suppliers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that as much as $1.5 billion of organic food was imported in 2002, while perhaps $125 million worth was exported. Some food producers say they shop abroad for organics because the domestic supply is inadequate, but also because imports can be a lot cheaper. The U.S. currently offers few subsidies or financial incentives to farmers to go organic, and since chemical-free foods typically take more labor to produce, high costs keep many farmers out of the organic market altogether. Some domestic organic growers argue that consumers expect certified organic food to be homegrown, and that certifying overseas producers doesn’t help the local environment. Says Wende Elliot, founder of an organic livestock cooperative, “It’s great to clean up China and Argentina, but that doesn’t help our local drinking water situation in Iowa.”