This year, a bill will pass that affects the food we eat, the people who grow it and the impact this food has around the world. Each year, U.S. taxpayers spend $20 billion to subsidize 25 percent of the nation’s commodity farmers who grow crops such as corn, wheat and soybeans. The vast majority of government payments go to large agribusinesses because subsidies are tied to the quantity of production. Farmers growing vegetables and fruits are left with virtually no support.
Beyond failing to assist farmers, commodity programs threaten the environment, nutrition and global development. The overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, mono-cropping and the failure to regenerate soil for future farming are encouraged by large-scale corporate farming and pose a severe threat to the sustainability of land. Because subsidies go to only five commodities, there is overproduction of these crops, which means that they are used for other products such as processed grains and unhealthy foods that are full of artificial sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup. Cheap, processed foods become the staple diet of those in food stamp programs since a family of four only receives $86 per week, which is not enough to buy healthy fruits, vegetables and other unprocessed foods. And the impact isn’t solely domestic - these cheap processed grains are exported across the globe, displacing not only small and medium-sized farmers in the U.S., but also global farmers.
What are the alternatives to paying corporations to feed us unhealthy food and destroy the land around us? To reduce the amount of money that goes to agribusinesses, we can put caps on subsidy payments so that corporations do not receive agricultural aid and instead direct some of that money to rural conservation and small farmers. To halt the harmful environmental impact of corporate farming, we can remove funding from the commodity program and put it into programs that provide technical assistance and loans to farmers who seek to use farming methods aimed at conservation and good stewardship of the land. To promote better nutrition for families, we can support an expanded food stamp program that promotes fresh fruits and vegetables rather than processed foods by making it possible to use stamps at local farmers’ markets and creating ties between local farms and school lunch programs.
Alternatives to current harmful agricultural policies are out there. Educating ourselves about healthy, environmentally friendly food policies, supporting locally and organically grown food through Community Supported Agriculture shares from local farms or at local farmers’ markets, such as the one in Dupont Circle, and contacting Congress members to let them know we need to re-envision our agricultural policies in the 2007 Farm Bill are all actions we can take to promote nutrition, protect the Earth and support farmers.
Tuesday’s teach-in at 5 p.m. in McDowell Formal Lounge, titled “What’s up with the 2007 Farm Bill?” is a tremendous opportunity to further explore the impact of the Farm Bill and viable alternatives to harmful agricultural policies.
Andrew Wolf is a sophomore in the
School of International Service.