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The headline to a recent Oregonian article ("New bill would end billions of dollars in federal farm subsidies," June 3) provides readers with an inaccurate picture of the current proposal to extend agricultural subsidies.
In fact, the U.S. Senate is poised to vote on a bill that would lock taxpayers into billions more to agribusiness and junk food subsidies.
The measure is called the Farm Bill, and it is a classic example of a good idea hijacked by special interests.
Tax subsidies for agriculture began during the Great Depression to provide emergency aid to small family farmers. Today, most of the subsidies do not help struggling family farmers, but instead, flow to large operations that should not need taxpayer support to thrive. In fact, 74 percent of agricultural subsidies go to just 10 percent of all farmers -- including some of the biggest in the country. In Oregon, a state of proud small farmers, 87 percent of all farms don't receive a dime of support.
Moreover, billions of tax dollars directly subsidize the production of junk food ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oils. 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.
That's enough to give each Oregon taxpayer 19 free Twinkies, but only one-quarter of an apple. At a time of high deficits and record levels of childhood obesity, the last thing our tax dollars should be used for is to pay for the ingredients to Twinkies.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate will vote on a version of the Farm Bill that would keep business as usual.
Even as the bill eliminates the direct payments program, as noted in the article, it would create a new wasteful 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 10 years.
Just as bad, the bill would continue the "crop insurance program." In 2011, taxpayers paid over $7 billion for these subsidies -- including giant, already profitable operations. Most businesses would give their left leg to get the same kind of deal.
Giant agribusinesses like Monsanto and Cargill are pushing hard to pass this bill -- they spent over $200 million in lobbying and campaign contributions in 2008 alone.
It is crucial that our Sen. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley push back against these special interests and demand a Farm Bill that does not use our tax dollars to subsidize giant, profitable operations, nor underwrite junk food ingredients.
David Rosenfeld is the Executive Director of OSPIRG, a statewide consumer group.
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