The organic industry has gone wild in the last decade, but you wouldn't know it at the Department of Agriculture.
Despite year after year of double-digit growth, organics receive a pittance in financing and staff attention at the department, which is responsible for writing regulations about organics and making sure that they are upheld.
The National Organic Program, which regulates the industry, has just nine staff members and an annual budget of $1.5 million. A Florida real estate developer named Maurice Wilder received more than that in farm subsidies in 2005, some $1,754,916, to be exact, according to a subsidy database maintained by the Environmental Working Group.
Other parts of the Department of Agriculture spend roughly $28 million or so a year on organic research, data collection and farmer assistance. It may sound significant, but the department spent far more than that, $37 million, subsidizing farmers who grew dry peas in 2005. (The farm value of dry peas is about $83 million a year. Consumers spend more than $14 billion a year on organic food, up from $3.6 billion in 1997.)
It's not entirely surprising that organics are such a low priority at the department and in Congress. Both the agency and farm-state members of Congress are reliable cheerleaders for industrialized agriculture, and Big Ag has often viewed organics with suspicion, if not outright disdain.