As farming has transitioned from a once localized industry to an international one, it's brought with it a new set of challenges for U.S. farmers. Spurred in part by a growing demand for biofuel, along with federal subsidy programs, about 180 million additional acres of corn and soybeans have been planted around the world over the last decade. In the U.S., this two-crop cycle of corn and soybeans has become the dominant model in the Midwest, thanks to the federal farm policy that subsidizes these crops, with devastating consequences to human health and the environment.
When most people think about farm subsidies, chances are they do not immediately think "massive taxpayer money boondoggle that should be cut from the federal budget immediately." They've probably heard about how hard it is out there for small family farmers, doing honest work in the world, keeping everyone fed and maintaining our institutional repository of agricultural practices. Surely, these subsidies are helping to keep an important way of life alive for the True Sons of Soil and Toil ... like, say, multi-billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Wait. What? He's a farmer? Ha ha, yes. As it turns out, your taxpayer dollars "subsidize" the "farming" that's being done by a host of mega-rich superstars from the Forbes 400 list, none of whom you'd immediately associate with the sort of hardscrabble agri-artisan who's in need of a leg up from the federal government. But their numbers are legion. According to the Environmental Working Group, "at least 50 billionaires or farm businesses in which they had a financial interest benefited from $11.3 million in traditional farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012." And the farm bill currently being considered contains changes that will likely increase the subsidies these billionaires take away.
When the United States was founded in the 1700s, about 90% of the U.S. population was employed in agriculture. By the time of the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln served as President of the United States, about 50% of the population was employed in agriculture. Today, less than 1% of our population is employed in agriculture, and most of the food sold in the U.S., and even around the world, is controlled by just a handful of companies. Who controls the food supply in the U.S. today, and how did they come to be so powerful? Unfortunately, we are blaming everyone and everything for the poor quality of our food today, except for the ones who have actually caused this to happen. Unless we understand the true cause of the problem, and the real solutions, nothing will change.
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
New York Times
WASHINGTON — When it comes to spending cuts, members of Congress like to say that “everything is on the table.” Except, generally, food. But now federal farm subsidies, long decried by policy makers as wasteful and antiquated but protected by powerful political interests, appear to be in serious danger.
This week, […]