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Disappointingly, the U.S. Senate passed a version of the Farm Bill today that continues to send billions of tax dollars to giant agribusinesses—despite many claims to the contrary.
Over the last 16 years, taxpayers have spent over $260 billion in agricultural subsidies. A common myth is that the subsidies go to small family farmers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, 74 percent of agricultural subsidies go to just four percent of all farmers—typically giant operations that should not need taxpayer support to thrive. In Oregon, a state of proud small farmers, 87 percent of all farms don’t receive a dime of support.
Moreover, these subsidies are heavily tilted towards crops like corn and soy, which are often processed into junk food ingredients. OSPIRG research has found that since 1995, roughly $17 billion in taxpayer subsidies can be traced directly to the production of these junk food additives. To put this last fact in proper context, only $262 million was spent subsidizing apple production during the same time period. At a time when one in four Oregon children are overweight or obese, this is the last thing our tax dollars should be used for.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate approved a Farm Bill on Thursday that would keep business as usual.
- It is true that the bill eliminates the Direct Payments program, as touted by many Senators, with a savings of $30 billion. Tragically unmentioned is that the bill also creates a new subsidy program called “Risk Coverage” that would effectively lock in profits for the largest corn and soy growers—costing taxpayers an estimated $29 billion over the next ten years. Most businesses would give their left leg to get the same kind of deal.
- Similarly, the bill barely dents the flaws in the crop insurance program. In 2011, taxpayers paid over $7 billion for these subsidies, most of which went to just 4 percent of American farmers—including giant, already profitable operations. The current Farm Bill will cut this program by only $120 million a year—and taxpayers will continue paying a basic business expense for agribusinesses that make as much as $750,000 a year.
Given these facts, it is difficult to see how this bill can be characterized as reform.
And at a time of record deficits, it is outrageous that so many Senators are calling the Farm Bill a "reform".
If we want real reform, then our best shot is in the House of Representatives. OSPIRG citizen outreach staff have spoken face to face to nearly 60,000 Oregonians about this issue on the last year, and we're starting to getting the word out on OPB and The Oregonian about what is really going on here. Our PIRG colleagues in 19 other states are doing similar work.
You can help by emailing your representative today and spreading the work.
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