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Guest Post – obamafoodorama – If Americans Are Outraged Over Bank Bailouts, Why Aren’t We Outraged Over Big Ag Bailouts?

From Eddie at obamafoodorama.

Although the most recent outrage over the profligate behavior of American financial institutions has been focused on AIG’s executive bonuses, Americans are equally outraged by the rate of foreclosures, by the credit crisis, by rising unemployment due to the bad economy. Bailout money, courtesy of American taxpayers, was given in good faith that the financial institutions were providing vital services to Americans–but it turns out these institutions were crushing the global economy to rubble, with absurd ponzi schemes and dangerous "financial instruments."

This same outrage should be turned on the American Ag sector. If we’re so appalled by the foolhardy way our financial institutions have behaved, why aren’t we equally outraged at the foolhardy way Big Agribusiness has behaved with taxpayer money–and taxpayer health and well being? Big Ag routinely gets federal farm subsidy monies, courtesy of the taxpayers, but many of their farming practices are immediately dangerous to human health. We don’t call farm "subsidies" bailouts–rather they’re referred to as "a safety net" for farmers. But subsidies are legislated government cash payments, voted on by our elected officials, in the same way that the bailout money for automakers and financial institutions were. In 2007 alone, which was a record year for crop prices, the feds gave $5 Billion of your hard-earned cash in direct payments to farmers. And since the year 2000, according to a Washington Post report, the government has paid at least $1.3 billion in "farming" subsidies for rice and other crops to individuals who do no farming at all. Where’s the outage over this?

Polluting the environment and fostering a dangerous resistance to antibiotics through the rampant use of confined animal feeding operations is the Ag equivalent of a sub-prime mortgage. It looks good on paper, but eventually it could kill you. Toxic assets are the equivalent of genetically modified crops and rampant pesticide use. Seems like a swell idea at the time, in order to get a huge crop out of the ground, yet the future for eaters is completely unknown–but suspected to be very dangerous. And in terms of food safety, it’s the Big Ag corporations that have been routinely responsible for the jumbo poisoning outbreaks, such as Cargill with ground beef, Tyson’s and Smithfield for chicken with salmonella, Dole and Mission Organics for spinach and salmonella. Think these corporations aren’t getting federal subsidy bucks–your money? Think again. If they’re not getting direct subsidy payments from the federal government, they’re buying their products from farmers who do. The Environmental Working Group has an excellent site that tracks where subsidy payments go, to whom, by category. Your taxpayer dollars are funding your own ill health and the future ill health of your children, and wrecking the environment at the same time. Where’s the outrage?

In 2007, corn was the most subsidized crop in the United States, according to EWG, getting more than $2 Billion in subsidy money. Perhaps it’s no accident that corn–usually genetically modified corn–is in almost everything we eat. And perhaps it’s no accident that busting down EPA guidelines and elevating the blend percentage for ethanol is the latest policy platform from our very bizzy Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who seems bent on turning the USDA into the New Energy Department. Ethanol promotion is a policy that’s potentially outlandishly dangerous both to the environment and to human beings. And corn in general has been under increasing scrutiny for causing all kinds of health problems, too, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, and with the recent discovery of mercury issues. Yet taxpayer money is annually given to companies that promote corn-induced environmental and health crises. Where’s the outrage? Where are the lawmakers pounding their fists and excoriating Big Ag execs in congressional hearings and on television, the way they do with banking execs?

Giving taxpayer money to corporations that are dangerous to human health is not a new problem; it’s simply one that’s growing more and more out of control. Ag policy analyst James Bovard’s 1995 case study of Archer Daniels Midland shows both how long this has been going on (since 1980), and how bad it is for human health–as well as the economy:

The Archer Daniels Midland Corporation (ADM) has been the most prominent recipient of corporate welfare in recent U.S. history. ADM has lavishly fertilized both political parties with millions of dollars in handouts and in return have reaped billion-dollar windfalls from taxpayers and consumers. Thanks to federal protection of the domestic sugar industry, ethanol subsidies, subsidized grain exports, and various other programs, ADM has cost the American economy billions of dollars since 1980 and has indirectly cost Americans tens of billions of dollars in higher prices and higher taxes over that same period. At least 43 percent of ADM’s annual profits are from products heavily subsidized or protected by the American government.

And yes, this is still going on today. In his Joint Congressional Address, Barack pledged to cut farm subsides in an effort to reduce our multi-trillion dollar deficit, which immediately caused farm-state senators and corn lobbyists to declare "a war," led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Iowa is the largest corn-producing state, of course, and the Iowa Corn Mafia, a cross section of elected officials, gets a lot of subsidy money. Yesterday, Congress passed a 90% taxation Bill to recoup AIG bonus money that was paid with bailout funds, as a fast fix to quell public outrage. This may prove unconstitutional, but the point is, it was rapid action in response to public outrage. Surely the billions and billions of taxpayer dollars being given to corporations that are fostering food-created disease and environmental destruction could be better used to help fulfill those Obama campaign pledges about supporting smaller and family farms, and helping organics…where’s the outrage?