USDA Farm Subsidies: Eliminate or Reform for Small- to Medium-Size, Local Organic Farms?
For all of the bloviating over the Federal deficit and government spending, I would be interested in a healthy public debate on farm subsidies, especially when considering the vast majority of produce subsidized by the USDA ends up in junk food and factory farming.
What if organic produce, dairy, poultry, and beef grown by local small- and medium-size farms were as cheap by the pound as Big Macs, soft drinks, and Kraft Mac n Cheese? Mark Bittman of the NYT has repeatedly called for farm subsidy reform rather than its elimination in the hopes that the government will make it easier for Americans to afford healthy food: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/dont-end-agricultural-subsidies-fix-them/.
The report, “Apples to Twinkies: Comparing Federal Subsidies of Fresh Produce and Junk Food” by CALPIRG and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, studies the interesting question of whether the nation’s problem with obesity is fueled by farm subsidies (for the executive summary, see: http://www.calpirg.org/home/reports/report-archives/health-care/health-care/apples-to-twinkies2). According to the study, the federal government spent $17 billion of the total $260 billion spent subsidizing agriculture on just four common food additives: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils. By comparison, the government spent only $261 million subsidizing apples, and far less supporting fruits and vegetables, like spinach, broccoli, and blueberries – which are reported to encourage better health. Corn and soy subsidies account for a whopping 40% (over $100 billion) of all agricultural produce subsidies. Consider these commodity crops are used to support livestock and poultry in factory farming (think “Food, Inc.”). (More reasons for Melt® to be organic, non-GMO, and soy-free!)
The Environmental Working Group has put together an interesting primer on farm subsidies, with fine-grained data on their allocation and the link is included here for your reference: (http://farm.ewg.org/region.php?fips=00000&progcode=total). It is interesting to note that 10 percent of all farmers collected 74 percent of all subsidies, amounting to $165.9 billion over 16 years.
To put things in perspective, the PIRG study states that if the government had given taxpayers the subsidies instead of the farmers, each taxpayer would have been given $7.36 to spend on junk food and just 11 cents to spend on apples per year. This does not include taxpayer dollars used to subsidize corn and soy used for factory farming and by extension the fast food, beef, and poultry industries, which is probably a far larger number. This is a key factor that makes junk food cheaper than healthy food, which contributes to greater obesity rates in the United States.