The Food Bailout: How Your Taxes
Are Funding a Broken Food System

Remember the bailout that we funded for the banks?  Well, the same thing is happening in our food system.

“Not that bad”, you might be tempted to think.  ”At least we all eat.”  As opposed to the banks that somehow managed to direct those bailouts straight into bonuses.

But if you eat and pay taxes, you might want to know about “The Farm Bill” as it is a huge piece of legislation that influences everything from what goes into our shopping carts to what gets served up in the cafeteria at our kids’ schools.

Consider how the price of food is rising or how it only seems that while 46% of us want to eat organic, few can actually do so on a regular basis due to the costs.  The money flowing into our food system at the federal level impacts every single one of us, what we can afford to eat and the health of our families in a very significant way.

That money flow is a direct result of something called “The Farm Bill” though a better name for it might be “The Food Bill.”  Its a giant piece of legislation that directly impacts the cost of every piece of food in this country.

Which is why seventy leading chefs, authors, food policy experts, nutritionists, CEOs, and environment and health organizations sent an open letter to Members of Congress last year urging lawmakers to modernize the Farm Bill and make nutritious and healthy foods more affordable to all Americans.

According to a poll , 78% of Americans want healthy food to be more affordable.  Not surprising when you consider the rates of diseases like diabetes, asthma and cancer that we are seeing in the health of our loved ones or that this generation of children has earned the title of “Generation Rx” due to the high rates of conditions and diseases now so prevalent.

If you are one of the countless Americans who has ever stopped to wonder why fresh fruit is so expensive and processed and packaged food is so cheap, it’s largely because of the “Farm Bill” and the way that we currently allocate our taxpayer resources in our national food budget.

How it stands right now is that as taxpayers, we are writing checks and that money is being used as taxpayer funded payments called “subsidies” to support the growing of corn and soy, crops used to make our processed foods. Few of the dollars that we send in are used to support other foods in any meaningful way.  In other words, our current system keeps the foods that use these ingredients, mainly the cheap processed foods, cheap, while making everything else seem expensive.

Can you imagine if  instead of funding the junk food, we funded other foods?  Like apples and carrots for example?  We could afford to carry them in schools, at home and in hospitals. Our food companies would use more of them in their products, as they’d be cheaper to source, and we would benefit from the nutritional differences.

Sound too good to be true?  It is, right now.

And some might argue (and they do) that we need our current subsidy system to avoid mass starvation.  How else are we going to feed the world?  But interestingly, according to the World Health Organization and Business Week, there is so much extra food floating around the globe that not only is it increasing rates of obesity, but we also waste a third of what is produced, it’s simply thrown away. As a result, obesity is a far greater threat facing the globe than starvation, and malnutrition is affecting both.

In other words, we have subsidized a food system that is making us fat, sick and undernourished.

Some food corporations and production groups, especially those who grow soy and corn believe that these handouts are necessary to guarantee stable prices, a food supply and to protect food crops from steep price declines.  Apparently, they may not be aware that the global banks and Wall Street can wreak havoc on food prices by trading what are known as “collateralized commodity obligations” in which they bundle up a whole bunch of these assets in order to profit off of the trades. But how could they be aware of these derivatives?  They are hardly regulated.

But back to the “Farm Bill,” the bill would also provide an estimated $9 billion a year to continue a long-standing insurance program that benefits only farmers of commodity crops.  In other words, farmers are paid to buy and grow corn and soy.  They won’t get the same level of insurance if they grow something else, like apples, carrots or tomatoes.  In the current system, with the subsidies and insurance promises, the system only pays farmers to keep growing corn and soy crops.  There is no safety net if they choose to grow anything else.  Who can blame them?  Times are tough.

Which is why the letter to Congress is so important.  It calls for an end to this lopsided allocation of taxpayer resources and our lopsided funding of the food system and asks for an end to the bailout of Big Ag that allocates $140 billion to companies engineering corn and soybean seeds from which so many of the ingredients now found in our fake, fast and processed foods are derived.  Right now, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, “about one-third of the subsidies awarded under (last year’s) program went to just 4% of farmers.”

According to the letter sent to Congress, Americans “are deeply concerned that it would continue to give away subsidies worth tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest commodity crop growers, insurance companies, and agribusinesses even as it drastically underfunds programs to promote the health and food security of all Americans”.

Mass starvation?  It seems that mass malnutrition in an increasingly obese world in which too much food is being produced, thrown away and wasted seems more likely.

It also seems that the Farm Bill, this taxpayer funded piece of legislation, “is out of step with the nation’s priorities and what the American public expects and wants from our food and farm policy.”

And while this funding of the status quo might be good for the chemical companies and for those whose products have to be purchased  by our nation’s farmers in order to grow these two crops, it doesn’t seem to be benefiting the millions of stakeholders in the food supply, nor the farmers themselves, nor the growing number of obese and overweight Americans who rely on cheap, processed foods to feed their families in quite the same way.

A better “Farm Bill” would fund a diverse and healthy food system, especially in light of the fact that a growing number of us and our national economy are being impacted by obesity, diabetes, cancer, allergies and autism, diseases and conditions that are increasingly being shown to have a link to diet and nutrition.

So while you may not have heard of the “Farm Bill” until recently, this Senate bill is arguably one of the most important pieces of legislation Congress will consider when it comes to the health of our country.

And if you haven’t heard about it, you’re not alone.  But “unless we – meaning all of us who eat and pay taxes – demand Congress fundamentally change the way it writes the next farm bill, I can guarantee the interests of agribusiness will once again come out on top,” said Ken Cook, president and co-founder of EWG. “We have a real opportunity to compel members of Congress to work on behalf of our health and the environment if they hear from all of us now.  Eaters – it’s time to get in the game.”

Let’s go, America.  Game on.