Are you a Taxpayer? You are a slave to Big-Ag thanks to the 2012 Federal Farm Bill.

The Federal Farm Bill is the single most important piece of legislation that affects everything you eat.  Everything. Instead of approving a new federal Farm Bill in 2013, Congress passed a nine month extention because they failed to get it together.  This feet-dragging, bureaucratic bullshittery effectively halted [mandatory] funding for local food programs and small-scale farmers, but yet they somehow still managed to dole out $5 billion  towards direct subsidy payments for large-scale, industrial agribusiness.  That seems a little suspect, doesn’t it?  Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Farm Bill also affected the kind of crops that farmers grow, the future of the environment, and the future of food security in the United States.  But even though there has been an enormous (and steadily increasing) public demand for locally sourced and sustainably grown food, the 2012 Farm Bill only served to make relatively small improvements to help family farmers deliver on that demand, even though they are the ones responsible for producing our nation’s healthiest foods and cleaning up the environmental messes of Big-Ag and CAFO.  Though you would think that small-scale farms and public interest would take precedence over big-AG, they aren’t garnering more attention and more funding.  Why?  Because the deck is stacked against them, that’s why.

It’s historically been Washington’s policy to disproportionately favor big-business over public interest.  Big-Agribusiness is no different.  But if this bill is passed as is, it would significantly underfund programs that promote environmental integrity, food decentralization and independence, small-scale farming operations that make healthy food, and other farm-to-table programs.  It would underfund all the good stuff that’s in the best interest of the public, in favor of subsidies that benefit corporations that consistently ruin the environment and produce shitty, processed “food” either for human consumption, feelot food for diseased factory farm animals, or corn ethanol.

The vast majority of farm subsidy payments are given to the largest and most profitable industrial farm operations.  10% of the farms recieve 70% of the government subsidies.  Some of those who receive these subsidies are the most profitable companies in the entire United States.

Then there’s a glimmer of hope:  The 2012 Farm Bill is currently designed to increase funding to strengthen the local food infrastructure by 50%, so maybe you think I shouldn’t bag on it too much.  This is an awesome step in the right direction, yes?  We should be happy, right?

Sure, maybe for a split second until reality sinks in again.

That 50% increase in funding doesn’t actually address the unfair pricing and unlevel playing field that small-farmers face when competing in an oligopolistic market against multi-national, multi-billion dollar, multi-senators-in-their-pocket conglomerates. There’s nothing egalitarian about this bill, nor its predacessors.

Let’s not be fooled. The Free Market does not exist here. 

According to the research conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), between 2008 and 2010, under the authority of the Farm Bill, the U.S. government spent $159 million on organic agriculture programs and $300 million to promote local food programs that benefitted small farmers and local economies.  But also during that period of time, $39.4 Billion (not million) was spent subsidizing crops like corn, soy, and wheat.  All things relative, right?

U.S. farm policy overwhelmingly benefits big-agribusiness, not small-scale producers.  And although some people in the community are happy about the proposed 50% funding increases, that only amounts to mere crumbs from a multi-billion dollar piece of legislature.  No small-scale farmer should be happy to settle for the short end of the stick that this bill proposes.  Until these subsidies are equitable and there is a level playing field in the market, there should be an uproar from the within the small-scale farm community.  There should be an uproar from everyone, for that matter.

There must be a greater push for equitable reform.  What is needed is a bill that reduces government subsidies to industrial agriculture, or equally invests into local food programs that encourage sustainable agriculture, decentralized food systems, and conservation efforts.  That’s my fantasy.

While the the big-agribusinesses reduce competition with the aid of government welfare programs for the rich subsidies, the farming climate becomes more hostile to newcomers, which results in a collective loss for you and I in terms of food independence and environmental stability.   But I’m not holding my breath for top down reform, and neither should you.

I think I remember reading somewhere that “Government is for the people, by the people…” but that may have just been some fairytale story that I made up.

The problem isn’t just that the policy shortchanges small farmers and that the policymakers aren’t making choices in the interest of the public— it’s that the taxpayers are paying for a Farm Bill that undermines public interest.  We pay for an increased concentration of powerful corporations that are able to dominate the agricultural market and dominate the outcomes of federal policy.

The environmental impact of these policies are no better.  These industrial agriculture corporations have so much money and political power that they can take land that was previously set aside for conservation to be re-zoned for agricultural production.  According to new research by the Environmental Workers Group and Defenders of Wildlife in a report entitled “Plowed Under,” between 2008 and 2011, more than 23 million acres of grasslands, shrub land, and wetlands were converted to plant more than 8.4 million acres of corn, 5.6 million acres of soy, and 5.2 to grow wheat.

For their private gain, they destroy ecosystems, decrease biodiversity, worsen the burgeoning deforestation issue and increase water pollution due to farm run-off along the way.  Who will clean up when shit hits the fan?  You will, taxpayer.  Not only do taxpayers pay for the proliferation of these companies,  we pay for their clean-up, too.  I think I read something about taxation without representation once…Maybe that was in another fairy tale too.

If this isn’t a system of slavery to industrial agriculture, I don’t know what else you could call it.  

So, what do we do about it?  Well, there’s a lot that can be done, but it will take a lot of time and a continuous effort on our parts.  For one, these large agribusinesses are only in business because we put them there.  We vote for them with our dollars, and we must stop supporting them.  We bought their nutritionally sub-par, processed shit and we paved their way to screw us over because we were lured in by artifically-low prices.  We cannot afford to do that anymore, figuratively and literally speaking.


 Why You are a Slave to Big-Ag by Karen Pendergrass 2013


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