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pinion Study Heimlich Maneuver Before Reading Farm Bill


The cost of food continues to rise steadily. That doesn't mean there is less food being farmed; it doesn't mean the supply has been reduced. What it does mean is that socialized costs and privatized profits work fine for Big Ag, so much so, that they can put aside the seeds and farm the government's "crop insurance" program instead. Subsidies are this year's bumper crop and if the new Farm Bill could talk, it would say, "get out your wallets."

Currently the government's federal crop insurance subsidies are at a record high, with tax-payers spending $7.4 billion a year on farmers' insurance premiums alone, and $2 billion more is paid out to compensate farmers for losses from price declines. A Congressional Budget Office study estimates the subsidy premiums will cost approximately $90 billion over the next 10 years. 


Last April, the new "farm bill" passed through the Agriculture Committee, and recently passed a Senate vote of 90 to 8, giving members a week to consider amendments before it goes to the floor for final approval. This week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reported that she would propose an amendment that returns the $4.5 billion cut by the bill's architects, from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the "food stamp program."

As is, the Senate Farm Bill would cut the $4.5 billion over the next 10 years, slashing benefits for those already living below the poverty line. The cuts would drive struggling families even further into poverty, while increasing the probability that many more children would go to bed hungry.

Rep. Paul Ryan

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget plan would cut the SNAP program by an additional $127 billion -- almost 20 percent -- over the next ten years. These cuts would force millions of low income families off the rolls, reducing benefits for a family of four by $147 a month. 

The farm bill has drawn a huge amount of controversy from the Catholic Church,  environmental and health organizations, food policy experts, authors, nutritionists and a group of seventy leading chefs, of which many signed and sent an open letter to Congress expressing their frustration.The letter claimed the 2012 bill draft lacks real reform and takes a hatchet to meaningful programs. Legislatures plan to take those cuts and increase the billions in subsidies they put annually into the pockets of the largest and most profitable corporate farms.    

Farm subsidies have been around longer than those for oil. Crop insurance dates back to 1820's Europe, and 1919 in the U.S. In 1938, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), woven into the precautionary measures brought on by the Great Depression.

It is unacceptable that a program designed to prevent millions of people from ever having to experience the hunger and malnutrition that occurred through the great depression, would become a key instrument in perpetuating a return of those conditions. 

To comply with capitalism, one must observe "price decline" as a vital element to its success. If the fear, the reality of loss, is taken away, and only the losses shift to what must be shared by all, isn't that socialized cost and privatized profits? 

Corporate farming has become more of a money market then a farmer's market. Corporations are buying up millions of acres of land unsuitable for sustainable farming, with hopes that a carelessly planted field will not produce a sellable crop. With crop insurance, for every dollar spent on a policy, a $1.80 can be returned. The subsidies guarantee profits for those financial institutions who participate in the crop insurance program.

The New York Times reported that farmer and rancher Jim Faulstich said he was in favor of having crop insurance, but added that the insurance should not be used to make money at taxpayer expense. "If we as farmers expect taxpayers to support premium subsidies, it's only fair we grow on land that is capable of supporting it." He added, "Could some of this land be profitable without the crop insurance subsidy? I think not."

Also from the NYT report; "When you can remove nearly all of the risk involved and guarantee yourself a profit, it's not a bad business decision," said Darwyn Bach, a farmer in St. Leo, Minn., who said that he is guaranteed about a $1,000 an acre in revenue before he puts a single seed in the ground because of crop insurance. "I can farm on low-quality land that I know is not going to produce and still turn a profit."

Land not suitable for pasture, is being bought up for as much as five times it's value so venture capitalist can participate in the subsidized crop insurance program. Banks from around the globe are also getting in on the action of guaranteed revenues backed by the USDA programs.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported, insurance companies in Switzerland, Australia, Japan, Bermuda and Canada received $7.1 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds from 2007 to 2011 to sell American farmers crop insurance policies. Zurich-based insurer, Ace Ltd., bought Rain and Hail, a  U.S. crop insurance coverage company, for $1.1 billion. These kind of investments require predictions based on high profits, and it will all come from American taxpayers' pockets. 

There are more ways to play the farm bill than there are flavors at Baskin Robins. The 20 miles of S.R. 62, between Parrish and Duette, in Manatee County, FL is bordered with many thousands of acres growing tomatoes. And every year thousands of acres go unpicked, tomatoes left to die on the vine, while soup kitchens, food banks, and community pantries struggle to get enough on their shelves. 

Schools say they are strapped for funds needed to improve their lunch program; so what do our children get? Meat-glue nuggets and chocolate milk for nourishment. They get fish sticks or cardboard pizza on Fridays, while those responsible for the menu sit on their six figure cushion in denial about the conditions they endorse. 

I will undoubtedly again hear from the corporate farms that line tomato-alley, about how much they have donated to their many causes - then boast and inflate the dollars in revenue they claim are generated by their operations, all for the people of Manatee County. But I will remind them again; 90 percent of their tomatoes leave the county and state, yet 100 percent of the semi-truckloads of  pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and tons of ground plastic, contaminating the land and groundwater stay here when the tomatoes leave. 

The billions of gallons of water used each year for the crops, also helps to carry all of those chemicals to the depleting supply of water we've been left with. Commissioners and county attorneys have stated -- these fields are no longer fit for any other use -- due to the concentration of chemical toxins. 

To think citizens are not already paying an enormous price for the toxic environment created by these endeavors -- that we should also cough up million of dollars to help these corporate heads reach their projected profits is nothing short of insanity. 


What to do?

While budgets are being cut to the bone, from programs like food stamps, environmental regulation and indigent health care, legislatures are working overtime to increase subsidies to some of this country's largest and most profitable corporations, at the expense of the poor. These dollars should be going towards growing organics, bringing back the family farms and tending to the woes of inner city blight. Tell your representatives what you think, and if they don't listen, tell them again with your vote.


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