Government Farm Subsidies Hurt Us, the Environment, and the Economy. (though they sometimes have help).
Literally and figuratively. Consider this article just an overview. I highly recommend reading on with the links at the bottom. Farm (agriculture) subsidies are big business in the United States averaging about $16 billion a year to farmers across the country. But with factory farming the rule and small farms the exception, draws the question of whether or not subsidies are necessary. The origins of farm subsidies seemed like a good idea but have thus far gone towards creating the factory farming that we now know as well as targeting specific crops for mass growth while neglecting other, healthier, options. This is especially true since farm subsidies given out in the U.S. don’t always require farming.
Ultimately, U.S. Farm Subsidies promote and prevent real food justice. Here’s a deeper dive into why.
How Subsidies Work
Subsidies are “a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry or business so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive.” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
This means the government gives out money to keep the cost of production affordable. In effect, farmers can sell certain subsidized crops for less than it cost to produce them. Farm subsidies target certain crops, and since the agriculture business lobby’s hard to keep it this way, we find those crops in our store shelves.
Ever wonder why corn shows up in about 86% of the crap on the store shelves? Because the government makes the crop affordable to mass produce. If the subsidies weren’t around, the price of corn and soy (among other crops) would jump drastically. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Farm subsidies create an unbalanced food system which promotes the mass production of certain crops to the detriment of others.
With our current understanding of health, it would make more sense to subsidize fresh fruits and vegetables, not dairy, corn, and soy.
A Brief History of Farm Subsidies
It all started back in the Great Depression. But the idea that got it going is a modern one. The issue with the agriculture business is one of proliferation. We simply make more food than we can consume. With that much competition, farmers eventually see prices on crops fall.
During the Great Depression, about half the crops in the United States weren’t being sold. So the government bought them up to keep the farmers in business and keep prices steady. They followed this idea with paying farmers to leave the land alone. Not a bad band-aid at the time, but it set a horrible precedent.
The history of farm subsidies is admittedly quite a bit more complex. An extremely interesting issue that I won’t cover here in any more detail, but I’d promote the idea of finding out more.
Government Subsidies Contribute to Obesity
The worst part of farm subsidies for me is the idea of promoting a few cash crops. Factory farming grew up in the second half of the last century. At this time we saw a quick increase in factory equipment, technology, genetically modified seeds, herbicides and pesticides, and numerous other advancements that made farming easy.
For certain crops. And since the land was being subsidized farmers sought to maximize their land. The best way to do this was through dense crops that required little human involvement. Enter Soy, Potatoes, and Corn. Both of which now never touch human hands in the entire production process.
This simply means that less land is devoted to more costly fruit and vegetable crops. So why not subsidize healthy crops? Too much money keeping the status quo. But that’s why we’re all reading, writing, and talking about the subject. Keeping the conversation going in the hopes that enough education pushes policy changes.
In the U.S. Alone, agribusiness contributes about a trillion dollars a year. Try stopping that machine. Food is one of the world’s largest markets. After all, we gotta eat, right?
Government Subsidies on the Environment
But eating is destroying our environment. With the rise of agribusiness and factory farming came a slew of chemicals. Prior to this burst of technology, it was common to rotate crops and graze livestock in a rotating and moving fashion. But with the advent of subsidies, this stopped completely.
The idea behind rotating crops is to keep the soil healthy and alive for the incoming crop. Certain crops help to prepare for other crops. Hence the crops were rotated. With fertilizers and modern modified seeds fueled by a need to maximize land due to subsidies, rotating crops has shrunk as a practice. This degrades the soil and requires continuing to pour chemicals into the soil, which eventually runs off into the water.
Government Subsidies Increase Undocumented Workers in the U.S.
Finally, we have the subsidies unexpected effects on immigration. Since subsidies allow farmers to sell grain crops for less than they cost to make coupled with the North American Free Trade Agreement, it has been able to undercut grain sales south of the border. This results in a lot of agricultural workers losing their jobs. Guess where they go to find work? Exactly.
- Why federal farm support deserves a fresh look
- EWG: Know Your Environment, Know Your Health
- The Fat of the Land: Do Agricultural Subsidies Foster Poor Health?
- Runoff and Ocean Impacts NOAA