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John Block: Organic Foods

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Before focusing on today’s ag issue, I want to pay tribute to Clayton Yeutter.  Clayton passed away Saturday, March 4 – age 86 – having served as U.S. Trade Ambassador and Secretary of Agriculture for Presidents Reagan and Bush.  Clayton Yeutter – a good friend and champion for the ag industry and our country.  He will be missed.

Today, I want to raise some questions about organic food products.  The organic market continues to grow.  Organic supporters have been able to convince many consumers that organic is healthier, safer, and more sustainable.  But it is not.  And now, many organic producers are calling for a “check-off program” to fund research and promotion of their product.  We have check-off programs for pork, milk, beef, etc., but the programs promote all pork including Duroc hogs, Poland China hogs – all breeds.  Same is true with dairy – the program promotes all dairy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over the National Organic Program as it does over all of the check-off programs.

Here is the risk.  An organic check-off program could raise millions of dollars and be used to mislead the public into thinking that organic is better, safer, more nutritional than conventionally raised crops.  Here is my point.  I don’t think the U.S. Department of Agriculture should be a partner and supporter of a program to discourage adoption of modern agriculture technology, including biotechnology.  Our ag industry is productive, efficient, and sustainable.  We don’t want to go back to farming like my grandfather, with weedy crops and low yield – 80 bushels per acre corn.

If I wanted to be selfish about the whole question, I would encourage more organic farming.  Why?  Because overall production would be cut by one-third or one-half.  Then, we would have less corn, less soybeans, less pork on the market, and mine would be worth more money.

We need to make science-based decisions; we don’t need to be funding more false and misleading claims.  That really is “fake news.”

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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