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Emily Rusch,
CALPIRG

House Rejects Farm Bill Loaded with Subsidies to Big Agribusiness

Five Ways the New Farm Bill Would Have Brought Home the Bacon for Big Ag

“CALPIRG applauds the House for rejecting a Farm Bill (H.R. 1947) that would have kept the gravy train flowing for big agribusiness, locking in their unjustified corporate handouts for the next five years. With Congress focused on how to fix the budget, our elected leaders shouldn’t squander the opportunity to cut off these outrageous giveaways to Big Ag once and for all.

“Before the bill failed, the House narrowly rejected even modest amendments to reduce subsidies for the most profitable agribusinesses. The Kind-Petri amendment, which would have cut off certain subsidies for agribusinesses with high incomes, failed with a narrow 208-217 vote.

“The rejected Farm Bill would have continued the current practice of disproportionately subsidizing the largest agribusinesses, which are already profitable and don’t need taxpayer handouts. While the Big Ag lobby claims to stand up for small farmers, just 4 percent of agribusinesses eat up 74 percent of these subsidies, with more than 60 percent of farms never seeing a dime.

“The failure of this Farm Bill is a wake-up call: The House now has the chance to make serious changes to this legislation. Our elected leaders should stand up for taxpayers, not Big Ag, by ending wasteful subsidies once and for all.”

Five Ways the Farm Bill Would Have Brought Home the Bacon for Big Ag

Big Ag’s bait and switch

The House Farm bill eliminates the “Direct Payments” program — long the poster child for wasteful agricultural subsidies, known for handing out checks to rich landowners who don’t even farm. But in a political sleight of hand, the bill plows more than half the savings from cutting Direct Payments to a new subsidy program that will continue to do more of the same by giving handouts to large agribusinesses that don’t need our tax dollars.

This new “Price Loss Coverage” program guarantees agribusinesses 85 percent of the revenue they received in these previous years, locking in the record-high prices of recent years. A study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group found that if prices fall, the new program could cost taxpayers $20 billion more over the next decade than the discredited Direct Payments program.

Big profits mean big subsidies

Since 1995, just 4 percent of agribusinesses have made off with three-quarters of the subsidies. Yet the House bill rejected modest measures to reduce or eliminate subsidies for agribusinesses with high incomes. For millionaire farmers, the checks will keep on coming.

No caps mean million-dollar checks

Both the House and Senate rejected bipartisan measures to put any sort of cap on how big a check an agribusiness can receive to help pay its insurance bill. Currently, taxpayers pay over 60 percent of the premiums for agribusiness insurance, which compensates them for poor yields, price declines, or both. On top of that, taxpayers pay 15 private insurance companies $1.3 billion to run these programs.

Because the program has no caps, just 26 agribusinesses have received more than $1 million in a single year, while 80 percent of farms get $5,000 on average, according to a study from the Environmental Working Group.

Instead of reining in this program and capping how much agribusinesses can receive, both the House and Senate bills actually expand it.

Paying to market Big Macs and underwear abroad

The House and Senate bills make no changes to the $200-million-per-year Market Access Program, which subsidizes ad campaigns for giant agricultural companies and their trade associations. The House strongly rejected an amendment to end this program. Companies receiving this funding have ranged from McDonald’s to Fruit of the Loom. Taxpayer money has even been used to pay for a reality TV show in India to promote cotton. Companies are perfectly capable of buying their own airtime — they don’t need taxpayer dollars to subsidize their ads.

Subsidizing junk food

At a time when America faces an obesity epidemic, billions in subsidies underwrite the production of junk food additives. Between 1995 and 2011, U.S. PIRG research found that $18.2 billion subsidized four common junk food additives, including high-fructose corn syrup. That’s enough to buy every kid under 18 in the U.S. eight 2-liter bottles of soda every year. By contrast, the subsidies for apples — the only fruit or vegetable that gets significant subsidies — would pay for less than half of an apple for each taxpayer every year.

Neither the House nor Senate Farm Bill makes meaningful reforms to correct this imbalance in our food policy.

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CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest advocacy organization that takes on powerful interests on behalf of its members, working to win concrete results for our health and well-being.

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