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Serving: United States

Those awful farm subsidies: What's food security worth?

It's gotten to the point it's almost comical, the way the metropolitan media are annually suckered into generating indignant stories about “wasteful” farm subsidies.

The Memphis newspaper had a big story last week based on reports by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), about how such organizations as Ducks Unlimited and Agricenter International, both headquartered at Memphis, received several million dollars collectively in farm program payments. Past stories have made a big deal about millions going to Riceland Foods.

The underlying tone of the stories is that the taxpaying public is being fleeced, that huge corporations and organizations are raking in big bucks while the poor “family farmer” is getting shafted. The EWG gets tons of free publicity, which helps keep contributions rolling in.

What the EWG, and most media, don't bother to point out is that organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and co-ops such as Riceland aren't themselves getting the government bucks — they're just middlemen, who then pass the money on to their cooperating farmers (in the case of DU) or to farmer members (in the case of Riceland).

EWG President Ken Cook, who lucked into a good shtick with his Web site of the USDA subsidy list, says the group's goal is “to stimulate debate” on farm programs, and bemoans that the payments fail in supporting family farms.

Probably the most abused term in agriculture is “family farm,” with attendant wringing of hands about its disappearance and the rise of evil “corporate farming.” You could ask any hundred people on the street to define “family farm,” and chances are not one could do it. But odds are good all would be opposed to those horrible corporate farms.

The reality, as anyone in agriculture knows, is that family farms are still there, still predominant, still producing the bulk of the nation's food and fiber. But virtually every family farm, regardless of size, has been forced by tax laws to become a corporate entity. Though they're on the tax books as a corporation, they're still family owned, family operated.

What the farm payments really are, Cook pontificated to the media following release of the latest USDA rolls, “is trade adjustment assistance in disguise.”


They really are a food subsidy assistance in disguise, and he and every person in this county who buys food and eats three squares a day are beneficiaries of it — U.S. citizens pay far less for food than anyone on the planet. They are also a food security subsidy in disguise. God help the U.S. if it becomes as dependent on offshore food as it is offshore oil.

One wonders why the media that are so eager to endlessly parrot the anti-farm support message, don't spend a bit of effort digging into and publicizing how organizations such as the EWG hide behind their tax-exempt status to raise millions of dollars for promulgating political agendas.

If the Bush administration is as concerned as it professes to be about reform of the tax system and eliminating abuses, there's no better place it could start.

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