Tag Archives: government subsidies

You and the 2012 Farm Bill: a new perspective

  For those unfamiliar with this Bill, here is a quick look at what’s happening via two of my most abbreviated definitions: 1. We are all giving an awful lot of money to our government for them to pay large businesses to produce food that we get sick on. That’s pretty much the existing Farm Bill.  2. We give even more money to our government all over again, for them to pay for the health bills of all those people who eat all that bad food—which explains our national health insurance plan, and both are now unfortunately intertwined. Why do you need to be concerned about the Farm Bill? There are a few reasons: One is that you are paying for it—that should be reason enough. Additionally, it is being vastly misrepresented to the public and redrafted as we speak. It will go into effect next year. Less than 2% of the current Farm Bill is used to support vegetables, fruit, and nuts, most of the rest of the money is given to the meat and dairy industries, in one form or another.  All of the major changes proposed for this bill are aimed at taking away economic support from factory farms and providing more to small farmers—thinking this will produce healthier foods. Sounds good, doesn’t it? No, it’s not so good. Essentially, it will be a shift of money away from large meat and dairy operations to small meat and dairy operations—which is not a proper solution. When you hear about “farm subsidies” and “commodities”, it is this Bill that they are talking about. The original Farm Bill, most likely was once a good idea with humble beginnings in 1933 to help prop up farmers battling their way out of the Great Depression, but now it has evolved into a new definition of being disconnected. The current Bill is a 5 yr, $280 billion plan with 15 categories or “titles”, each with its own set of funds. You are hearing mostly about the $42 billion given as direct farm subsidies (these are for “commodities” or corn, wheat, soybeans, and another crops) and also about the $40 billion for two other Titles that provide various types of support such as crop insurances and land set aside programs. These three are the grouping of funds that have supported industrial farming the most in a direct fashion. But, $190 billion or 70% of the entire Farm Bill, is given to 43 million people enrolled in the food stamp program—and that Title has issues as well, but you won’t hear about them because it is more insidious and slides along unnoticed. OK, so what about the other 11 Titles? No one knows much about these because, at a meager $2 billion, they are not considered a problem. But I consider them extremely important. These Titles pertain to such things as conservation and environment, forestry, renewable energy, and research. In fact, if our government would have devoted more of the previous Farm Bills, essentially more of our tax dollars, to just two of those ‘menial’ categories—like, say, to environment and research—they may have discovered decades ago that we are growing our food all wrong. In fact, they would have found out that we are not growing food at all—we are growing livestock, and now fish. In order to move forward with the redrafting of the Farm Bill, a few things need to be sorted out. I’ll review the most important three: First, the Food Stamp program has no proper nutrition education or monitoring system so the program itself, is essentially contributing to our national health care costs and the perpetuation of producing unhealthy food because $190 billion is being spent, by those enrolled, on the cheapest and most readily accessible food possible—food produced with empty calories and from the meat and dairy industries.  Since this will continue to be the largest part of the Bill, it needs to be corrected at least as much as the other subsidy issues. Second, despite what the NY Times and other authors are saying, it needs to be clearly understood that Government subsidies by themselves do not cause obesity or any other disease. Proper food is out there. You just have to find it and create the demand. If we all decided to stop eating Twinkies today, they wouldn’t be made. Again, it begins with education. It begins with awareness—and the Farm Bill (subsidies) need to provide this awareness, before it does anything else. Third, all government funding should be for only those foods that are the healthiest for our environment and for ourselves—organically grown, plant-based foods. Farmers that grow them should be heavily supported and obviously benefit the most. Doing these three things would create the right environment for healthier food to be produced and for proper choices to be made. I encourage everyone to get involved with this. You have a voice but carefully examine what is being proposed because the movement to restructure this Bill is well underway and is quite strong but not in the right direction as I have pointed out here. Since the 2012 Farm Bill will become a reality as a successor to previously enacted Bills, we certainly need to address it right now. However, I have another solution that which would get us on the right track much quicker, while the Farm Bill chugs along—called an eco and health risk tax—which will be for another blog, and can also be found  in Comfortably Unaware.


Choosing To Become Obese

It’s about choosing foods.                                                                                              Beginning concepts:

Does high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and/or our government subsidies cause obesity? Michael Pollan has been telling us this and there were others before him. They also believe that HFCS and subsidies cause many of our other illnesses as well. They are so persuasive that even discussions about the 2012 Farm Bill have now been heavily focused on reducing subsidies for the production of HFCS, corn, and other commodity crops. That is fine in one manner, but their energies are focused on the wrong food product. Obesity now affects 400 million people in the world and nearly 40% of all adults in the U.S., but HFCS and our government subsidies do not cause obesity. You do. Well, actually your food choices do. Certainly lifestyle also plays a major role. But in our culture today, that may simply mean the more exercise you do, the more you can indulge in eating foods that are not healthy for you, thus developing choice patterns and essentially postponing some of the negative impact of these foods.

So, what do I mean that they are focused on the wrong food product? Simply, they need to direct more attention to the meat and dairy industries and here is why:

Processed and empty calorie foods are not healthy for you to eat and we all know this. But we cannot be overly focused on that issue without first addressing the many ill effects that eating animal products have. For instance, the consumption of meat has been found to increase the risk of obesity by 25-33% (Int. Journal of Obesity, 2009 and numerous other publications).  Additionally, Dr. Barnard with the PCRM (Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine) demonstrated that individuals who ate only plant-based foods had a 68% less risk of developing adult onset diabetes (which affects 25 million people in our country). Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year on health care costs related to these two conditions in the U.S. HFCS, while not healthy for you to consume in large quantities, is not contributing to Global Depletion (the loss of our primary resources on earth)—the meat, dairy, and fishing industries are. Therefore, if we want to reduce our potential for contracting a chronic disease and at the same time help our planet—let’s begin with addressing the food choice most responsible.

If we completely eliminate HFCS and processed foods from our diet as Mr. Pollan is campaigning for, that would be a good thing—but then clearly understand, that all the far more damaging and unsustainable practices of raising and eating livestock remain.

More will follow regarding food choices, the 2012 Farm Bill, and policies.

The Real Cost of Organic Food

When discussions arise about how expensive it currently is for the U.S. consumer to purchase organic food, I would suggest viewing it with a more comprehensive perspective.

Let me explain…

Latest statistics reveal that organic produce typically costs the end-user/consumer between 10-40% more than its counterpart grown conventionally. Knowing that this is simply the “price” of the produce, I think it is crucial that all consumers understand there are two other major factors involved that should always be taken into consideration when buying organic plant-based foods. One factor is what I would call the actual calories used issue. This refers to the fact that the U.S. wastes approximately 30% of all food from the point of production through to the plate of those eating it. For me, this actual calories used issue also can refer to the fact that the typical individual in the U.S. consumes between 185 and 336 calories per day more than we did 40 years ago. On average, instead of consuming 2,000 to 2,800 kcal per day, to maintain a healthy weight to height ratio (obviously these numbers would be slightly higher or lower relative to other factors such as one’s age, gender, lifestyle/activity level, etc.), we are essentially taking in kilocalories at a rate whereby one to two pounds can easily be gained per person per week, hence our national obesity issue. So here we can see that per person in the U.S. there is on average 15% more calories eaten per day than is necessary as well as up to 30% food loss occurring as waste. This combination of food wasted and overeating, the actual calories used issue, should then be compared to the 10-40% increased price of organic food. Go ahead and purchase organic produce, but simply do not waste it or eat more than your body needs per day.

The other primary factor which must always be considered when viewing the price of organic produce is exactly what the real cost savings are to our environment and our own health. It is well-known now that organic produce, especially when compared to non organic or organic animal products/meat, is less costly to our planet–saving valuable resources such as our atmosphere, fossil fuels, water, land, biodiversity, rainforests, and others. When compared to any type of animal product, organic plant-based foods are much less costly to our own health as they substantially reduce our risk of the four leading causes of death (coronary heart disease, malignancies, cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes). Eating organic plant-based foods would cost our nation approximately $145 billion less per year in health care (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, CDC). The difficulty is that these real cost savings have not yet been accounted for in our agricultural systems. Proper government incentives and subsidies have not been established to help reduce production costs of organic plant-based foods. Less than 1% of the 2009 Farm Bill was paid to plant-based food producers while $6.6 billion or 75% of farm subsidies has been paid to support the meat and dairy industries. We need to keep in mind that an additional $750 million was also paid by our government in 2009 to support the fishing industry, which just furthers the incentives to overfish and exploit already depleted fishing stocks (of which, 70% of all fish species are already overexploited). These major factors must always be taken into consideration when paying a slightly higher price for organic plant-based foods. Very soon the prices will come down… there simply will be no other choice as we evolve.

More of this topic can be explored, along with my thoughts on mandating a food “Eco-Tax” and “Health-Risk Tax”, in my book “Comfortably Unaware: Global Depletion and Food Choice Responsibility” which can be previewed at www.comfortablyunaware.com .