The Environmental Working Group has just published its report on farm subsidies in the US based on data from the year 2009. Before getting to the analysis itself, it is important to note that the report is based on 2009 numbers because the USDA demonstrates a troubling lack of transparency when it comes to giving out information. What emerges is a clear picture of a subsidy program gone astray. First off, the recipients of these payments are not required to even work on or won a farm. Indeed, the biggest beneficiaries of a program intended to help farmers are actually big agribusinesses, particularly in the south. How uneven is the distribution of this pie? The top 10% of the beneficiaries of this program received 55% of the total payments. Even this cursory reading will reinforce what we know already: small farms which are more vulnerable to the vagaries of prices and weather are not befitting from direct payments at all. This program is merely handing out cash to big players in crops like corn, wheat and soy. Remember that fruits and vegetables are not even covered by this program. So if we are looking to overhaul the food system, eliminate junk and encourage healthy eating, subsidy reform seems like a really good place to start. The EWG data presentation is detailed, fascinating and even available by state here.
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