Know Your Farm Subsidies, Know Your Food

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Yesterday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released the latest update of its highly entertaining farm subsidy database. The links cover $245 billion in federal farm subsidies distributed from 1995 to 2009, and the site lets you search for subsidies by state, county, congressional district, and specific farm, and even by commodity. There is also a national summary.

As the EWG puts it:

taxpayer-funded federal farm subsidies lavished on the wealthiest farms have resisted even modest efforts for reform. Introduced after the Great Depression and once the savior of struggling small family farms, these subsidy programs have been co-opted by the largest agriculture interests and now work to ensure profits for plantation-scale growers of corn, soybeans, rice, cotton and wheat.

I went straight to New York state. Alas, my home state ranks only number 30 in payments and our farmers got only $156 million in 2009. Some of them got as little as $1,000 or $2,000 (numbers in Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa go into the millions). Even so, corn and dairy farmers in Rep. (now Sen.) Gillibrand's district did better than the New York average last year.

For a quick lesson in the complexity of farm supports, take a look at the chart of corn subsidies in New York state from 1995 to 2009. No wonder farm supports are so hard to understand.

Let's hope this site inspires people to start gearing up for dealing with the next Farm Bill, coming up in a year or so. The EWG's farm subsidy primer is a great place to begin. Happy searching!

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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