Organic industry focuses on Cuba as agriculture minister heads to U.S. |

Organic industry focuses on Cuba as agriculture minister heads to U.S.

Just as Cuban Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero is scheduled to visit Washington on Thursday and Iowa on Friday, the U.S. organic foods industry has begun to focus on Cuba as a source of supply to satisfy the demand that the U.S. organic industry is unable to meet.

Rodriguez Rollero is scheduled to hold a session with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday and to visit Iowa with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday.

At the present time, U.S. law allows the sale of U.S. food and agriculture products to Cuba, but the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba prevents the importation of foods from Cuba. But since President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba, serious efforts have begun to convince Congress to repeal the ban.

At its annual meeting in Washington last week, the Organic Trade Association featured a Cuban-style meal of organic foods and discussion of the changing U.S.-Cuban relationship.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who organized a recent trip to Cuba, told OTA in a speech that the U.S. embargo is “nuts.”

“Why not buy more from a country that is 90 miles away?,” Pingree asked.

PIngree noted that it is up to Congress to repeal the embargo and that so far there is resistance even though Obama has called for repeal. But she said “there could be a change that could happen very suddenly.”

OTA members, she said, should be “the first” to be able to engage in that trade and Cuban might also buy organic seed from the United States.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also noted that he has told Cuban officials that organic foods from Cuba would be welcomed in the United States if the embargo is lifted. Cuba engages in organic production partly because it has been unable to afford or obtain the kinds of inputs used in industrial agricultural production.

The delegation Pingree took to Cuba included Laura Batcha, the executive director of the Organic Trade Association and Kathleen Merrigan, the former Agriculture deputy secretary who is now in charge of sustainability at George Washington University.

Merrigan wrote the law that sets organic standards when she was a Capitol Hill aide.

–The Hagstrom Report