God's Politics

God's Politics


Elizabeth Palmberg: Down on the Farm?

posted by gp_intern

Don’t think the farm bill (currently up for its 5-year revamp) affects you? As this handy article by Michael Pollan points out, the farm bill is really an eater’s bill, and the current setup is fanning the flames of the country’s high-fructose obesity epidemic. It’s also an environmental bill, driving what happens to almost half of the privately owned land in America. And it’s an immigration bill, as it pushes down the price of U.S. farm products, driving small farmers in Mexico and elsewhere off their land (and, often, across the border into the U.S.). So, if you think that the price of Twinkies should not be so, well, artificially low in comparison to vegetables, or if you’re concerned with whether or not factory farms are pouring chemicals into our land or water, check out Pollan’s article.

Then go to Bread for the World to read about how the farm bill – as-usual – is no picnic for U.S. farmers either. (And for a view on how trade organizations and agreements – such as the WTO and CAFTA – affect farmers in other countries, see World Market 101 in this month’s Sojourners.)

Elizabeth Palmberg is Assistant Editor of Sojourners magazine.



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kevin s.

posted April 24, 2007 at 6:13 pm


Farm subsidies suck in general, and the fact that we have price fixing for our food (e.g. dairy) is preposterous.



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Wolverine

posted April 24, 2007 at 8:37 pm


Public Choice Theory warns about exactly this sort of thing. Having government make economic decisions via regulations and subsidies does not guarantee that wealthy interests will not have influence, and does not guarantee that what comes out will be in the public interest. Is Sojourners and the rest of the left willing to consider the possibility of foregoing any sort of “farm bill”? Until they are, my guess is that what comes out of the legislative sausage factory will be no better than what we have seen so far. Wolverine



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Carl Copas

posted April 24, 2007 at 10:02 pm


There are “farms” and “ranches” and then there are “factory farms” and “factory ranches,” many of which are owned by giant agricorp. I’ve less problem with limited subsidies for farms and ranches that are genuinely family-owned, in part because it’s potentially a question related to national interest. Disclaimer: I grew up on a small factory-farm (poultry and eggs) in the 1960s-70s. My father was farm manager, not owner.



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squeaky

posted April 24, 2007 at 11:03 pm


“Having government make economic decisions via regulations and subsidies does not guarantee that wealthy interests will not have influence” It’s not just about farms, you know. Many big businesses have been bailed out by government, as well–the auto industry, the airline industry, corporate welfare. What’s the difference? Shouldn’t the free market be set free for all sectors, then?



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Ngchen

posted April 24, 2007 at 11:27 pm


I’m somewhat skeptical of the claim that farm subsidies are what’s driving the obesity epidemic; however, it is true that subsidies are a distortion of the market. Barring some good reason why farms need to be subsidized to survive, the subsidies should come to an end. It is ironic how quite a few “free traders” are so fond of the 50+ cent/gallon tax on foreign ethanol which is an indirect subsidy. Likewise, we don’t hear about farm subsidies being anti-free trade. Why is that?



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Wolverine

posted April 24, 2007 at 11:42 pm


Squeaky: I don’t have any easy answers. No, I don’t believe in letting the market decide everything. And our democratic government is a tremendous accomplihsment that we should all take pride in. But I do believe that it is a mistake to romanticize government. There’s no vice found in the market that cannot be found among elected officials or bureaucrats. The short answer to your question, though, is that as things stand right now there should be less corporate welfare and fewer corporate bailouts. A great deal less. Wolverine



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Sarasotakid

posted April 25, 2007 at 2:28 am


Finally something where I think we on the SOJO left and the conservative readers of the blog can agree. It’s kind of funny. In the old days when I was a Republican (many moons ago) and working on campaign organizing a fellow Republican told me that the farmers will vote Republican come hell or high water. Why? Because the Republicans have been good in making sure that they get their subsidies. It goes to show that both parties have their “sacred cows”. No pun intended. I have not studied this close enough, but I’m sure that the Dems have been in on this too. For those of you who are vehemently opposed to illegal immigration, can we at least agree that a significant part of it is being driven by our farm subsidies that permit us to dump our cheaper agricultural goods in Mexico thereby decimating their agricultural industry?



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kevin s.

posted April 25, 2007 at 4:02 am


I’m not a big bailout guy, though the relationship between government and the airline industry runs deeper than bailouts. ” It is ironic how quite a few “free traders” are so fond of the 50+ cent/gallon tax on foreign ethanol which is an indirect subsidy. ” Which free traders are these? I’d be curious to hear the free-trade case for a system that simultaneously subsidizes ethanol and prevents foreign sources of ethanol from preventing the U.S.



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Mike Hayes

posted April 25, 2007 at 5:41 am


Elizabeth, A coordinated effort among former members “God’s Politics” MeetUps and subscribers to Sojourners generally to utilize the “Bread for the World” “Offering of Letters” could be very effective. But, that coordination cannot be initiated by persons who cannot “find one another” in our states and congressional districts.



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Ngchen

posted April 25, 2007 at 3:33 pm


Which free traders are these? I’d be curious to hear the free-trade case for a system that simultaneously subsidizes ethanol and prevents foreign sources of ethanol from preventing the U.S. George W. Bush, for one. He noted that reducing the tariff on foreign (Brazilian) ethanol wasn’t going to be on the agenda when he visited Brazil.



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kevin s.

posted April 25, 2007 at 4:49 pm


Bush isn’t really a free trader. At least, not in the sense that one could call him a hypocrite on this issue, though he is certainly wrong. Ethanol seems to make hypocrites of quite a few people, however.



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Bill Samuel

posted April 25, 2007 at 4:51 pm


Yes, the farm bill has massive impacts on several important issues. On global warming, a UN report showed that 18% of the human impact on global warming was caused by animal-based agriculture – and their narrow definition means that the total impact is really even larger than that. So anyone concerned about global warming should be asking their Congress Critters to oppose any subsidies at all for animal-based agriculture, including livestock feedstocks.



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Eric

posted April 25, 2007 at 9:51 pm


After reading the first couple pages of the article I have a question. Do poor people really go into a grocery store with, for example, $10 in their wallet and seek out the lowest cost food with the highest calorie content? (I’m referring to the twinkie vs. carrot example.) Is this really how poor people shop? “I’m really hungry, I don’t have much money, so I’m going to get the biggest bang for my buck and buy a twinkie!” Somehow I doubt this is the thinking they go through.



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Sarasotakid

posted April 26, 2007 at 3:58 am


“I’m really hungry, I don’t have much money, so I’m going to get the biggest bang for my buck and buy a twinkie!” Somehow I doubt this is the thinking they go through. EricAgreed. But you only need to see how obese we Americans have become to see that something is wrong with the way we are processing and marketing our food.



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Eric

posted April 27, 2007 at 2:51 am


I totally agree with you on that Sarasota. The vast majority of things sold in your average grocery store are junk. I was just critiquing the example used in the article.



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