On Jan.29, the House and Senate agreed upon a two-year stalled farm bill that hadn’t previously been reformed since 2008. Calling this lengthy piece of legislation the “Farm Bill” has as much political rhetoric as the name “Operation Iraqi Freedom[RG1] .” If you need to come away with the simplest summary of this Farm Bill, it is that poor Americans have been duped at the expense of supporting “big ag” corporations such as Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, DuPont, and, of course, Cargill, the single largest private company in America in terms of revenue. [RG2]
This $956 billion federal spending bill cuts food stamps for hungry Americans by $8 billion. This cut will reduce monthly food spending by $90 a month for 850,000 families who are likely already starving. The money from the cut in food stamps was simply transferred to provide an additional $7 billion to subsidize crop insurance for commodity growers.
When analyzing the farm bill, it is important to understand the relevant terminology. For instance, “food stamp recipients” can be translated to poor and starving American families, and “commodity growers” refers to industrial agriculture corporations growing corn and soybeans to turn into ethanol or cattle feed which is then sold to concentrated animal feeding operations. These growers might work directly for the big ag companies or may be independent farms that use seed and growing methods that align with the strict criteria of high yield industrial agriculture.
Of all the corn and soybeans grown in the entire country, less than one percent ends up directly in the mouths of Americans. Growing corn for ethanol, an ingredient in gasoline, makes up 40 percent of all the corn production in the country, while 36 percent is devoted to feeding factory-farmed cattle, and about 20 percent is exported. When you do the math, these three components make up 96 percent of the entire US corn harvest, leaving only four percent for products like high fructose corn syrup or old-fashioned corn on the cob. When you consider the amount of people who chug Coke everyday versus chomp on an ear of corn, it is fair to say that the amount of corn grown directly for human consumption is extremely small, much less than one percent, even though it is the most efficient way to actually feed people.
The reason I challenge [RG3] the name of the Farm Bill is because by the public’s standard, farms are meant to feed people. The groups that benefit from this bill use the façade of the farm to make massive sums of money that involve growing plants without necessarily feeding people.
Farm Bill spending comes out of the federal budget, which is another way of saying that it comes out of American’s wallets. Citizens are being forced to pay the government to threaten their food security and literally pay corporations to continue growing plants that do not actually feed hungry people. Paying for this farm bill [RG4] should be just as alarming to the taxpayer as having to pay taxes that go to fighting unjust and criminal wars.
On the bright side, there are a few silver linings to this bill that must be mentioned. The most productive reform is the elimination of the direct payment subsidies, which pay registered farmers direct cash regardless of whether or not they grew crops during a given year. This subsidy was a massive abuse of the federal budget, and its elimination will save 19 billion dollars in the next ten years. Additionally, spending was increased to aid in research development for higher crop yields, specifically in developing countries. While this sounds productive on the surface, the vague terminology will be taken advantage of by genetic engineering companies like Monsanto to gain federal subsidies for conducting research on GMOs and pesticides.
With a piece of legislation that in its nature has great influence on human nutrition, environmental sustainability, and even jobs, it is a pity that the USDA is so cozily in bed with big ag to such an extent that these corporations might as well put their seal of approval on the bill’s final draft. What this Farm Bill tells us is that the future of human access to nutrition will remain in the hands of a very small number of very large and powerful businesses. Continuing to subsidize this industrial system of food production will ultimately result in a global environment characterized by monopolistic resource control. This is already occurring in counties like India, where American farming corporations have totally annihilated the economic sustainability of local farming communities by introducing foreign methods and foreign money into a native system that will never be able to fairly compete.
The Farm Bill can be a force for economic and environmental sustainability around the world, but our taxpayer money will have to be used to support small-scale, local, sustainable agriculture, not the opposite as our country currently does.