Farm Subsidies…great commentary
The following commentary was written a year ago about a bill that was current at the time. However, the comments are ones to really think about. Why aren’t fruits and vegetables subsidized? Why are any crops subsidized? We know why corn and wheat are…fast food nation we are!
…..the federal government heavily subsidizes large, corporate farms to grow five principal crops: corn, wheat, rice, soy beans and cotton. (These farms also receive grants for not planting these crops.) I will return to the relationshp between their assertions and the first food pyramid shown here at Serious Eats in my concluding remarks.
Fruits and vegetables are called “specialty crops” and farms that grow them are ineligible for federal grants. Can you believe it? Cardoons and quinces, okay, in this country they’re still exotic. But why are apples, tomatoes, and green beans classified as “specialty” foods?
There are limited opportunities for their growers to apply for federal loans; the amounts are minimal and they fall due quickly. If you can’t pay, you go under and watch everything you built up get sold at auction.
It’s been a while since I attended a panel in Washington, D.C. in which farmers and journalists spoke for the need to reform the Farm Bill. Many policy wonks and well-informed federal workers attended and contributed as much as the panelists. I don’t have access to my notes, so if memory does not serve me well, please speak up.
However, I seem to recall that the subsidies began under FDR and have remained intact thanks to lobbying efforts and the interests of elected officials from the states that benefit. While FDR’s administration may have saved small family farms, agriculture has changed drastically over the years and the subsidies no longer serve the critical role they once did in feeding–or, I am guessing, clothing (cotton)–us.
According to Michael Pollan, the continuing subsidies explain the ubiquity of corn in unexpected guises. It’s not just in your breakfast cereal and polenta. It’s in your strawberry preserves in the form of the high fructose corn syrup that costs much less than sugar. Who knows? It may be in the tomato sauce that comes with your frozen meal of meatballs and pasta.
Personally, I see the food pyramid’s emphasis on grains as historical and not simply political. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Records from the earliest historical civilizations present grains as the staff of life. In Ancient Greece, bread was the centerpiece of the two daily meals and everything else was lumped together under the rubric of “things that go with bread”.
Many of us lead privileged lives nowadays. We have the luxury to enjoy a variety of foods so that those requiring gluten-free diets eat abundantly well. Cf. this interesting comparison of food pyramids as collected on the web site of the Mayo Clinic where its own model places produce on the bottom, with an emphasis on vegetables, presumably since fruits do not supply protein and concentrate calories in sugar.
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What I find most interesting in the Subsidized Food Pyramid is the premise that a whopping majority of funds goes toward meat and dairy.
The numbers on the chart/pyramid seem to contradict everything that Pollan has published in the NYT and in everything I’ve read in other reliable sources.
If you read the first paragraph of the PCRM’s (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) web site, you find this statement: “The bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies, much of which goes to huge agribusinesses producing feed crops, such as corn and soy, which are then fed to animals. By funding these crops, the government supports the production of meat and dairy products—the same products that contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease.”
I just don’t understand how the pyramid says only 13.23% of federal subsidies go to grains and a whopping 73.8% goes to meat and dairy.
While farmers who raise animals for meat, milk or eggs benefit from the low cost of subsidized grains used as feed, I haven’t heard about them receiving any direct aid.
Has PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) access to information that breaks down subsidies according to targeted markets for the grains? Does livestock eat a lot more of it than human beings? What about the farms that get paid for not growing the feed grain? How do their figures factor into the 73.8% Is the largest cost of ranching feed vs. purchase of equipment, livestock, maintaining property, salaries…?