One of the more perverse parts of the farm bill is a subsidy system that actually PROMOTES poverty and poor nutrition.
Here’s how it works.
The government offers subsidies to farmers. Most of these subsidies to to large farmers, and most of them go to just a few crops.
Corn is a major one.
So you’ve got a corn subsidy that mainly benefits major agribusiness companies. What does that do to farmers in the US, in the rest of the world, and to consumers.
Well, the first thing that a subsidy does is that it artificially lowers the price and increases supply. The mega-companies that benefit from the subsidy produce more and sell it for less because of the money that the government kicks in.
So what does that mean for a small U.S. farm family that doesn’t pocket as much subsidy? Their corn doesn’t sell for as much. Subsidies hurt the small US farmer.
And it’s even worse for farmers int the rest of the world. Thanks to NAFTA, a small maize (corn) farmer in Mexico is now directly competing with the subsidized US corn. While people in his village used to buy their corn locally, now they’ll buy the cheaper US corn.
Now the farmer is out of business.
What is he to do? He could try growing something else to support himself, but if it’s going to make enough money it is probably illegal. He could head to a sweatshop. Or he could head to the US (with or without his papers) to look for work–maybe as a farmhand.
Subsidies are bad for farmers in the rest of the world.
Oh, and now that there’s so much corn on the market, what can we do with it all? Well, we can make cheap high fructose corn syrup and wonder why obesity rates are increasing.
Wholescale reform of the farm bill really is a justice issue for food stamp recipients, for small and medium-sized farmers in the US, for farmers around the world, and for our super-sized nation.
We’re making good progress on the food stamp issue. We’ve got a long way to go on the subsidy issue.