WASHINGTON, D.C. — The fight over the federal Farm Bill is the Battle of the Bulge, larded by billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.
“Huge, profitable corporations, like Cargill and Monsanto, have pocketed more than $19 billion in the last 16 years and turned subsidized crops into junk food ingredients — including high fructose corn syrup,” says the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Many of the subsidies are set to expire this year, but industry lobbyists want Congress to keep them.
The House passed a Farm Bill (H.R. 1947) that continues the subsidies for the next five years. An amendment to cut off certain subsidies for agribusinesses with high incomes failed.
Subsidy opponents on the right and left say the $1 trillion bill embodies an out-of-control corporate handout. Just 4 percent of agribusinesses eat up 74 percent of subsidies, with more than 60 percent of farms never seeing a dime.
The National Corn Growers Association, which helped ensure passage with a last-minute endorsement, is pressuring Republican leaders to repackage the legislation with food-stamp appropriations and send it on to the Senate.
“It was a very difficult decision for us to make. It was done with the promise from House leadership that this would get us one step closer to getting the Farm Bill done,” NCGA President Pam Johnson told The Hill.
But the bill’s subsidies stick in the craw of free-market groups and liberal critics alike.
“These taxpayer giveaways are all the more absurd at a time when one-in-three kids is overweight or obese, and obesity-related diseases like diabetes are turning into an epidemic,” U.S. PIRG said in a statement.
Since 1995, the government has spent $292.5 billion on agricultural subsidies, $19.2 billion of which have subsidized corn- and soy-hydrogenated oils.
Taxpayers spent $84.4 billion on corn production, $8.1 billion of which funded production of corn starch and sweeteners. Of the total domestic corn produced, 9.6 percent ended up in junk food and beverages as sweeteners or thickeners.
Apples, the only fruit or vegetable to receive significant federal subsidies, garnered $689 million during the same period.
By contrast, nutritionists point to the “Twinkie subsidy.” Of 37 ingredients in the fattening, empty-calorie confection, taxpayers subsidize at least 17, including corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, vegetable shortening and corn starch.
At an estimated $7.30 per taxpayer per year, the subsidy would buy each taxpayer 20 Twinkies. The apple subsidy, amounting to 26 cents per taxpayer per year, would purchase less than one half of one Red Delicious apple.