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State Lawmakers to Consider Organic - Sustainable Ag Bill

February 26, 2007

A package of bills designed to promote sustainable farming, meet consumer demand for "chemical-free" food, and boost the rural economy with new research and methodology is being heard this week in the Minnesota Senate.

One person watching the debate with keen interest is Redwood County farmer Paul Sobocinski, also a member of the Land Stewardship Project. Sobocinski says the legislation would advance research on organic and sustainable farming to meet the growing demand for healthy foods produced without antibiotics.

"We have found that we don't have to treat hogs, for example, if we raise them in a more natural system and they aren't stressed as much. For the consumer, it's important because he's getting, in this case, pork that's antibiotic- free."

He says that is critical because the use of antibiotics for livestock growth reduces the effectiveness of the same antibiotics, used to fight diseases, in humans.

"We need research so that farmers have the latest information to improve their operations, to make the kind of adaptations that are needed to be profitable, so that we can respond to the increasing consumer demand."

And that demand is impressive, up more than 18 percent in the past decade. With sufficient support, and legislation like the bills being considered this week, Sobocinski insists Minnesota could be a national model for production and promotion of organic and sustainable food products. The proposals include research funding for the University of Minnesota and State Agriculture Department to develop healthier foods and boost farmers' efforts in rural communities.

The legislative package has passed the House Agriculture Policy Committee; its counterpart Senate Committee hears testimony on Thursday.

Jim Wishner/Jamie Folsom, Public News Service - MN