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Published May 10, 2010, 03:07 PM

Peterson admits poor choice of words, says there is market for organic, local foods

WASHINGTON — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., offended organic farmers a few years ago, but now they seem to have kissed and made up.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., offended organic farmers a few years ago, but now they seem to have kissed and made up.

In 2007, Peterson told the Financial Times of London that he couldn’t understand why “people are willing to pay two or three times as much for something that says ‘organic’ or ‘local’” but “if people are dumb enough to pay that much then hallelujah.”

The remark enraged organic farmers and locavores, and the Organic Consumers Association urged its members to send Peterson an e-mail saying he had won the award for dumbest quote of the week.

But the 2008 farm bill provided such a big boost to the National Organic Program at USDA and to the farmers markets that sell those foods that the Organic Trade Association gave Peterson its public servant of the year award a couple weeks ago when the group met in Washington.

The ceremony was private so Peterson did not have a chance to state publicly how he feels now about organic and local food, which is one of the fastest-growing sectors in American agriculture. But when the North American Agricultural Journalists met in Washington, Peterson said, “There is a market for organic and there is a market for local foods. I am all for it.” He added that he never should have made the remark, but “I was in some kind of ornery mood that day.”

Peterson also said he has had annual meetings of organic producers in his district for five or six years and that when he spouted off they said, “That’s just Collin being Collin.”

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