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  • Wealthy absentee landowners and millionaire mega-farms receive the most farm subsidies, with top recipients earning over $1 million in subsidy payments a year
  • The bottom 80 percent of subsidy recipients averaged just $587 a year in payments, whereas 62 percent of U.S. farmers received no subsidy payments at all
  • Farm subsidies were initially created to protect staple crops during times of war, reduce crop surpluses and provide monetary support to farmers when crop prices fell, but today mega-farms receive subsidies whether they need them or not in the form of fixed annual cash payments
  • The most heavily subsidized crops are corn, wheat, soybeans and rice, the very foods you should eat less of if you want to stay healthy
  • If you don't like the idea of your tax dollars lining the pockets of wealthy corporations, support small family farms in your area instead of buying heavily subsidized processed foods

Do You Have ANY Idea How Absurd U.S. Farm Subsidies Are?

February 27, 2012 | 61,674 views
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By Dr. Mercola

If you're like many Americans, when you think of farm subsidies you think of rolling green pastures, fields of golden wheat and corn, and a hillside full of cattle peacefully meandering through the grass.

The farmer, a "salt of the earth" type with weathered skin, depends on his farm subsidy to keep food on his table and, more importantly, to keep his farm afloat, allowing for the rest of the population to put food on their tables too.

This is how it should be -- but this is not reality.

Millionaires Receive the Majority of Farm Subsidies

A more accurate picture, as summarized concisely in the Organic Consumers Association video above, is this: those "real" farmers, the ones who truly need it, receive only a few thousand dollars a year, maybe less, while the rest serves to line the pockets of the millionaire "farmers" who own massive factory farms and who have probably rarely spent a day with their hands in the dirt.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG),i between 1995 and 2010:

  • 10 percent of farmers collected 74 percent of all subsidies, amounting to nearly $166 billion over 16 years
  • 62 percent of U.S. farmers did not collect subsidy payments
  • The bottom 80 percent of recipients averaged just $587 a year

Now, if you look at the leading recipients of commodity subsidies, you'll see the highest earners received payments numbering in the hundreds of millions from 1995-2010 for the top three! Unfortunately, the USDA is far from transparent with their subsidy data, and EWG was not able to track down who is actually receiving this money, as recipients of payments made through most cooperatives, and the amounts, have not been made public.

However, as EWG explained, it is clear that many of the recipients are not exactly losing their shirts over a dip in market prices for grain:ii As critics have put it, this is essentially giving "welfare to millionaires."

" … despite lawmakers' boasts of enacting major reforms in the 2008 farm bill, the new data clearly show that wealthy absentee land owners and mega farms awash in record income are once again the main beneficiaries of federal farm programs – while struggling family farmers go begging.

And once again, the database shows that many farm subsidy recipients get those fat government checks at addresses in New York City, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles – not exactly farm country, and a far cry from the programs' original intent. … The database revealed, for example, that Florida real estate developer Maurice Wilder, reportedly worth $500 million, was pulling in almost $1 million a year in farm subsidies for corn farms he owns in several states."

And Then There are the Recipients Who are Not Even Farmers at All …

The absurdity of federal farm subsidies gets worse still, as even non-farmers who moved into residential areas that once were farmland have received farm subsidy payments from the government, as have wealthy farmers who have received annual payments even when they are no longer growing the subsidized crop.

In 2008, the "actively engaged" rule was put forth specifically to nip this type of fraud in the bud. As its name implies, only those who are "actively engaged" in farming are supposed to be receiving the subsidies. But, alas, when EWG released its updated database in 2011, they found no changes to the status quo:iii

"Despite this rule, subsidies still line the pockets of absentee land owners and investors living in every major American city. In 2010, 7,767 residents of just five Texas cities – Lubbock, Amarillo, Austin, San Angelo and Corpus Christi – collected $61,748,945 in taxpayer-funded subsidies. Residents of Lubbock booked $24,839,154 in payments, putting it at the top of cities with 100,000+ populations that are home to farm subsidy recipients. The phenomenon of urban residents receiving federal farm payments remains widespread and coast-to-coast."

Mega-Farms Receive Fixed Annual Cash Payments, Whether They Need Them or Not

You may also be surprised to learn that while farm subsidies initially were created to protect staple crops during times of war, reduce crop surpluses and provide monetary support to farmers when crop prices fell, today mega-farms receive subsidies whether they need them or not.

The transition away from a needs-based system came in 1996, when lawmakers developed a "market transition" payment system for farmers. The idea was to phase out the subsidies over a seven-year transition period, during which farmers would receive an annual fixed cash payment based upon the number of acres on the farm (these direct payments were given as long as the land was not developed -- even if nothing was planted).

Of course, this ensures that the largest farms also receive the largest payments, and contrary to its original intent, the payments have not declined annually nor has the program gone away. It still exists today. EWG reported:iv

"Farm programs turned into a cash crop for big agribusinesses, which co-opted federal policy and turned it into a perennial giveaway that disproportionately benefits large landowners and wealthy farm operations. And that remains the reality today.

The industrial agriculture lobby has been defending the controversial "direct payment" form of taxpayer-funded subsidies ever since they were first authorized. These fixed, automatic checks go out every year to the largest growers of commodity crops, such as corn and cotton, whether farmers need them or not and despite the fact that farm household income has eclipsed average U.S. household income. Farm income for the largest operations, in particular, has soared sky high."

Subsidies Support Junk Food Diets, Chronic Disease and Environmentally Devastating CAFOs

The farm subsidy program is upside down not only in which farmers it chooses to support, but also in which foods it funds. Have you ever noticed that it's often cheaper to buy a loaf of bread than a pound of broccoli or even a pound of ground beef than a similar amount of green peppers? Or have you wondered how you can get a value meal at numerous fast-food restaurants for far less money than it takes to purchase foods to make a healthy meal, such as organic chicken and fresh veggies, for your family at home?

Perhaps this disparity has struck you as odd. After all, what makes vegetables more expensive than bread or meat? It's clearly nothing inherent to their growing requirements. Instead, it's the direct result of government farm subsidies, which favor the very foods you should eat less of if you want to stay healthy.

The top four most heavily subsidized foods? Corn, wheat, soybeans and rice.

By subsidizing these, particularly corn and soy, the U.S. government is actively supporting a diet that consists of these grains in their processed form, namely high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), soybean oil, and grain-fed cattle – all of which are now well-known contributors to obesity and chronic diseases.

Many of these subsidized grain crops are also used for animal feed, animals raised on confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). As it stands, 2 percent of U.S. livestock facilities produce 40 percent of farm animals,v and these large, corporate-owned CAFOs have been highly promoted as the best way to produce food for the masses (beef is also the seventh most heavily subsidized food). In reality, it has lead to an abundance of cheap food, but not without serious consequences:

  • Loss of water quality through nitrogen and phosphorus contamination in rivers, streams and ground water (which contributes to "dramatic shifts in aquatic ecosystems and hypoxic zones")
  • Agricultural pesticide contamination to streams, ground water and wells, and safety concerns to agricultural workers who use them
  • A decline in nutrient density of 43 garden crops (primarily vegetables, which suggests "possible tradeoffs between yield and nutrient content)
  • Large emission of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide
  • Negative impact on soil quality through such factors as erosion, compaction, pesticide application and excessive fertilization

A classic video on the U.S. government's fatally flawed agricultural subsidy programs, and how they affect your nutritional choices and health, is "How to Get Fat Without Really Trying" with Peter Jennings. Although it's several years old and Peter has passed away, the video still speaks the truth because virtually nothing has changed. If anything, the situation has actually worsened.

Help Prompt Change by Supporting Small Organic Farmers

It may be tempting to buy the cheap foods that the government is "paying you" to eat … but this choice will come back to haunt you in the form of health problems and increased medical bills later on. Try as they may, industry lobbyists still cannot force you to buy subsidized junk foods and foods raised in unhealthy "agribusiness" conditions. The choice is entirely yours, and consumer demand will always win eventually, so the more you demand healthy, unadulterated foods, the more they must produce, one way or another.

I strongly encourage you to support small family farms in your area, especially those that are embracing organic and traditional farming practices. These are the real farmers who need your support, and who are growing food that will nurture your health instead of harm it.


What Are GMOs?

From April 19th through April 25th we launch GMO Awareness Week. We set aside an entire week dedicated to providing you with information on GMOs and labeling initiatives.

GMOs are a product of genetic engineering, meaning their genetic makeup has been altered to induce a variety of “unique” traits to crops, such as making them drought-resistant or giving them “more nutrients.” GMO proponents claim that genetic engineering is “safe and beneficial,” and that it advances the agricultural industry. They also say that GMOs help ensure the global food supply and sustainability. But is there any truth to these claims? I believe not. For years, I've stated the belief that GMOs pose one of the greatest threats to life on the planet. Genetic engineering is NOT the safe and beneficial technology that it is touted to be.

Help Support GMO Labeling

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—Monsanto’s Evil Twin—is pulling out all the stops to keep you in the dark about what’s in your food. For nearly two decades, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness have exercised near-dictatorial control over American agriculture. For example, Monsanto has made many claims that glyphosate in Roundup is harmless to animals and humans. However, recently the World Health Organization (WHO) had their research team test glyphosate and have labeled it a probable carcinogen.

Public opinion around the biotech industry's contamination of our food supply and destruction of our environment has reached the tipping point. We're fighting back. That's why I was the first to push for GMO labeling. I donated a significant sum to the first ballot initiative in California in 2012, which inspired others to donate to the campaign as well. We technically "lost the vote, but we are winning the war, as these labeling initiatives have raised a considerable amount of public awareness.

The insanity has gone far enough, which is why I encourage you to boycott every single product owned by members of the GMA, including natural and organic brands. More than 80 percent of our support comes from individual consumers like you, who understand that real change comes from the grassroots.

Thankfully, we have organizations like the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) to fight back against these junk food manufacturers, pesticide producers, and corporate giants.

Internet Resources Where You Can Learn More

Together, Let's Help OCA Get The Funding They Deserve

Let’s Help OCA get the funding it deserves. I have found very few organizations who are as effective and efficient as OCA. It’s a public interest organization dedicated to promoting health justice and sustainability. A central focus of the OCA is building a healthy, equitable, and sustainable system of food production and consumption. That's why I'm proud to announce I will be matching donations up to $250,000 this week.

Please make a donation to help OCA fight for GMO labeling.

Donate Today!

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Food Democracy Now
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Fluoride Action Network
National Vaccine Information Center
Institute for Responsible Technology
Organic Consumers Association
Center for Nutrtion Advocacy
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Vitamin D Council
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