How much of your food cost is political

Adapted from my post at California Greening.

In a recent edition of the Modesto, CA Bee, Victor Davis Hanson questions politically popular farm subsidies.

In times of massive deficits, why are we borrowing millions to subsidize profitable agri-business?

It really becomes very clear what is happening when you scrape away the political rhetoric and look at who is giving thanks for their bounty and who does not reap that harvest. Of all the commodity crops (corn, soy, wheat, sugar, cotton) corn most clearly illustrates exactly how we are all getting the shaft. According to Hanson:

Corn reserves are at their lowest point in 15 years, as prices skyrocketed nearly 70 percent in almost one year. Escalating world wheat prices have caused unrest in the Middle East. Soy, dairy and meat prices are likewise reaching record levels. In other words, a growing world population, increased affluence abroad and demands for higher-priced meats and vegetables, and diversion of prime cropland for biofuel from Europe to Brazil — in perfect-storm fashion — have made food a lucrative business.

Hanson does not even address the most distressing fact concerning corn.  As the US Government moves to increase the amount of ethanol in our transportation fuel, an increasing amount of our crop is being diverted to fuel rather than food. Climate blogger, Joseph Romm, never a fan of ethanol, was petty clear about this today, but with more moral indignation that Hanson managed to convey.

In a world of blatantly increasing food insecurity — driven by population, dietary trends, rising oil prices, and growing climate instability — America’s  policy of burning one-third of our corn crop in our engines (soon to be 37% or more) is becoming increasingly untenable, if not unconscionable.

I have written about the problems with commodity subsidies before: here, here and here (with Wisconsin’s Jill Bussierer).

Now we have a Republican controlled House of Representative, with a large number of Republican Senators from the very states that grow most of our corn. Kari Hamerschlag, Sr. Analyst at the Environmental Working Group sent out an email about the EWG’s Farm Subsidy Database in which she makes the point that the benefits go to a very few. Then concludes her letter by pointing out that we need a new agricultural policy.

In a time of large federal deficits, the agricultural budget is a zero-sum game. Every dollar that goes into wasteful, inequitable programs cannot be committed to solving serious environmental problems, promoting local and sustainable organic food systems, increasing access to healthy foods, or building new opportunities for beginning and minority farmers. A better strategy is needed to help growers and ranchers of all sizes, sectors and regions cope with the myriad challenges facing agriculture.

That is pretty much what Hanson was saying in the Modesto Bee OpEd linked above. It seems to me that there is a need for someone who can challenge the status quo of our gerrymandered Central Valley congressional districts, someone who can talk about getting the waste out of Federal Budget, who can talk about putting people to work on their own land; someone who can extol the advantages of decentralizing power back to the local government, someone who knows what farmers have known for millennia, that if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.

That is not any of the Valley’s current Congress Critters.

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  • DJ

    Yes, the fed pumps billions into big agribiusiness – the same folks that put millions of small farmers out of business – in order to keep mega-farms unfairly competitive against the remaining small farmers. This is in part the result of campaigns awash in corporate money. If these poor downtrodden agribusinesses are so desperate for subsidies, how do they manage to give so many millions of dollars to political campaigns?

    There’s also the matter of political influence. From Michael Taylor and a host of other FDA employees, to Clarence Thomas, John Ashcroft, and many others, Monsanto (the agribusiness giant) has its fingers in the pie, contributing even the regulators that determine what it can and can’t do!

    Like the banksters, these mega-farms bought the people who make decisions about our food. They are in essence self-regulating – which really means unregulating. And when Congress decides who gets taxpayer money, just like the banksters and the oil companies, agribusiness bought their way to the head of the line.

    Corn-based ethanol is one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated. It takes more energy to produce than it provides. Yet other, more efficient methods of producing ethanol are not properly funded.

    Corn-based ethanol isn’t an energy policy – it’s a kickback – another example of rampant corruption in our federal government.

    • Corn-based ethanol is a gift to mid-west agribusiness

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