The Corny Reason Why Federal Food Subsidies Have Gone Haywire


Corn, soybeans, cotton, rice, corn, corn—oh yes,  did we mention corn?— along with a few other commodity crops receive heaps of federal support (YOUR tax dollars) through government subsidies.

Subsidies to some degree ensure that farming is an attractive, stable business vital to our nation’s health—and the health of its citizens. How much should we subsidize? Which crops—and why, oh why, so much focus on corn?

Some critics, like Environmental Working Group, argue that the subsidy program needs major reform, while others like National Corn Growers Association argue that subsidies play a vital role by ensuring the nation’s food security. Others still, and probably the vast majority of eaters out there, have very little knowledge of what farm subsidy programs are and how they work.

Amelia Urry of Grist, has created a fabulous and succinct primer on farm subsidies. Starting with their introduction during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, on up to the present crop insurance arrangement organized for the latest Farm Bill, she explains the complicated web of good intentions for farmers and bad consequences for the health of our nation. Her bias, however is clear at the end, one that we are partial too as well:

These payments fund a massive industrialized food system that takes its toll on our land and water, while our diets are full of all that extra corn, from our corn-fed burgers to our Halloween candy — and so are our cars.”

We recognize the importance of farmers big and small. From the 15,000-acre Iowa corn and soybean farm to the 1-acre sustainably grown vegetable grower, these businesses are sometimes one flood away from a tragic loss. Few other professions are so subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Yet, we also recognize that our current food system, which Urry so aptly explains, is producing net losses for public health and the environment. We long for another way, and know it is possible, and we wonder if reforming the way that we support farmers will someday soon be part of the answer.

Image via Flickr 


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson 


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