214133779_80b8e25d98.jpgWhy do we have to pay so much more for healthy food (fruits, veggies, whole grains, and safe dairy/poultry/fish/meat) when junk food is so cheap?

Why do we have of go out of our way – and pay extra – for fresh food without added chemicals?

At the ice cream shop, they charge extra for fudge sauce.

You don’t have to pay extra to get your two scoops of french vanilla “fudge-free”.

Why do you have to pay more to get two gallons of milk “hormone free” or “pesticide free”?

Because – of course – the Beltway says so.

To clean up our plates, our Federal pols would have to do some belt-tightening: they’d have to step away from the gravy train of bribes contributions from Cargill, ADM, BigPesticide, and BigAg.

Yeah, right.

Since they’ll never do that, we’ll have to drag ‘em away by their hind trotters.

Messy business – but worth the fight.

Here’s why. The most enduring Federal investment in our farmland, food security, and farm families is known as ta-da The Farm Bill – TFB to its pals.

The Farm Bill touches all aspects of our lives: what we eat, where we live, and how long we live.

In the days and weeks to come, I’ll be exploring TFB’s massive impact on our lives and what we can do about it. We’ll look at how this one bill – and the hundreds of billions it sluices into corporate agriculture – weaves a powerful spell over the Air, Fire, Water, and Earth in all of our lives.

And we’ll learn how to break the spell and invoke protection for our families, pets, fields, rivers, and skies.

But before that piece of magic, we have some preparation.

We’ll start with an overview of TFB.

Ever since 1933, we the taxpayers have been paying farmers to take care of America’s lands – and America’s food security – while they took care of their own families.

A good idea – then and now.

In the 1930′s one in four Americans lived on farms. Today only one in 70 does. . .and only around one-tenth of them live on full-time commercial farms.

Yet almost half the Continental US is comprised of farmland.

And all of every American is comprised of someone who must eat – or perish.

Nearly three-quarters of a century after FDR’s first Farm Bill, we Americans have compelling reasons to invest in our food security and our nation’s lands.

And we have even more compelling reasons to stop pissing away Farm Bill Federal dollars – our Federal dollars – as subsidies to:

Cargill [America's second largest private company - they try harder for our "free-market" subsidies]

the price-fixing cartel known as Archer Daniels Midland,

the vertically integrated tumor producers known as BigPesticide/Ag Pharma,

the factory hog farms dumping pig shit in our drinking water and rivers,

and a host of other tapeworms on the body politic which have crept up the orifice of the Money Party and infested the body of the Farm Bill over the last few decades.

Hey – I’m all for aid to seniors. Social Security just isn’t enough for many seniors.

But this is over the top:

James R. Cargill, in Forbes’ list of richest Americans with a net worth of $1.5 billion, is the 79-year-old grandson of the founder of Cargill, William R. Cargill. James R. Cargill inherited this wealth. The family no longer runs the company but is thought to own about 90% of the stock. [2]

[snip]

Political contributions

Warren R. Staley, Chairman of Cargill, is a Bush Ranger having raised at least $200,000 for Bush in the 2004 presidential election. [3]

Cargill gave $223,000 to federal candidates in the 2006 election through its political action committee – 21% to Democrats and 78% to Republicans. [4]

Lobbying:

In a weekly review of lobbying in various industries The Hill said, “Privately held Cargill is a behemoth in ag circles. The company’s revenues nearly reached $63 billion in 2004. That left plenty of money to lobby. The company spent $240,000 in the first part of 2004 to lobby on such things as the Clean Air Act, the energy bill and corporate tax modifications.” “Business & Lobbying“, The Hill, December 8, 2004.

The company spent $400,000 for lobbying in 2006. $100,000 went to two lobbying firms with the remainder being spent using in-house lobbyists.[5]

Wow – $63 billion in revenues – $57 billion of the revenues (before whatever the privately-held costs are) for the Cargill family. The vast majority from our heavily subsidized Industrial Ag.

On a lobbying investment of $400,000… plus at least $450,000 in reach-around for the Bush, Rethugs, and slect (Ag Committee) Dems.

So for every dollar Cargill spends massaging the Bushies and Congress…

Almost 75,000 dollars of revenue come in – the vast majority floated in on Federal subsidies to Commodity AG (crop subsidies); fossil fuel (used in fertilizer/farm equipment/transport); the ethanol scam (net energy-loss); and the Federally subsidized barge canals AKA the Mississippi and Ohio River basins (Corps of Engineers – oh, and the Ninth Ward).

Where can we sign up for almost $75,000 revenue for every buck our business invests?

Oh – that’s right – The Farm Bill.

American agriculture depends on massive fossil fuel inputs for diesel, fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. This core requirement of industrial agriculture allows TFB to directly impact US energy use – and adds to the demand for imported fuels to fire US Big Ag policies. TFB’s impact on American agriculture is so massive that the Bill literally affects Air, Fire, Water, and Earth for hundreds of millions of Americans.

TFB is one of the Mothers of All Compromise. TFB directs massive Federal subsidies to several different purposes (Food Stamps, school lunches, Industrial Ag, Export Ag, land conservation) with very different constituencies. Just like the Pentagon nudges useless weapons projects through Congress by scattering defense war plants across key Congressional districts, TFB has a village of recipients who benefit from all that Federal juice.

And – just like other worthy New Deal and/or Progressive Era programs – TFB was diverted and perverted by the same megacorps it was built to defeat.

Of course, parts of the TFB do great things for the poorest Americans. Even before the Bushies, Food Stamps and Federally subsidized school lunch programs saved young minds and lives: with Bush’s Bust looming, the programs are even more precious.

TFB’s “Title IV” – the Nutrition Programs – include food stamps, emergency food assistance, school lunches, Women, Infant and Children Program (WIC) and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program. These programs take up nearly half (48.4%) of total TFB spending, and rightly so – they serve the neediest in our society.

Even here, the programs are perverted, skewed so that purchase decisions are best for industry, not Americans. Thus the foodstuffs directly purchased by Federal TItle IV dollars and provided as US Govt food assistance are high-calorie industrial foods and processed foods: the worst possible food choices for low-income Americans, seniors, and Native Americans already dying from diet-induced obesity and Type II diabetes.

TFB’s “Title I” – the Commodity Programs – hides the biggest prizes for the megacorps and Big Ag. Title I sucks up one-third (33.2%) of TFB money. The direct support payments for just five crops: cotton, corn, rice, wheat, and soybeans – amounted to nineteen billion dollars in 2006 (or 92% of the commodity crop payments under Title I). And – just the rest of our winner-take-all Federal programs under the Bushies – the big boys at the top get the goodies:

According to the Congressional Research Service, 84 percent of commodity support spending goes to the production of just five crops: corn, cotton, wheat, rice, and soybeans. Half of that money currently goes to just seven states that produce most of those commodities. The richest ten percent of farm-subsidy recipients (many of whom are corporations and absentee landowners who can hardly be classified as “actively engaged ” in growing crops) take in more than two-thirds of those payments.

A few other broad brushstrokes:

* Almost 50 percent of all commodity subsidies went to 5 percent of eligible farmers in 2005.
* Subsidies help the largest farms to acquire the best land and squeeze out smaller growers.
* The growth rate for jobs trailed the national average in nearly two-thirds of counties receiving heavy subsidies between 2000 and 2003, according to a recent report.

If When we take that endless river of cash from the likes of ADM‘s execs (and their criminal defense attorneys), Monsanto, Cargill, et al, we’ll have billions to bring healthy food to the neediest Americans.

The 2007 Farm Bill has passed the House and is scheduled for mark-up in the Senate starting around October 23.

You can start by planning to bug your Senator – and lots of other peoples’ Senators – to make the Farm Bill safe for Americans and America’s small farmers. The good people at Organic Consumers’ Association can help you contact the Senate – and we’ll be discussing what to “learn” our Senators about.

Bon Appetit!

(photo by Philocrates)