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Economic Sense

RSS By: Matt Bogard, AgWeb.com

Matt's primary interest is in the biotech industry and ag policy.

1 Million Dollars...Pennywise Pound Poor Deficit Reduction Ideas

Jul 13, 2011

By Matt Bogard

Remember this scene from the Austin Powers movie?

Could this be a parity of our political leaders' discussion of budget cuts and tackling the deficit?

This especially reminds me of the political posturing we get from the right and the left  discussing cuts to farm subsidies. Cutting the entire farm program budget amounts to less than 1/2 of 1 % of total government spending. Given the problems with medicare and social security, it seems like an incredibly irresponsible waste of time and resources to focus on these issues now. That's what the long drawn out farm bill discussions are for. Some groups like the EWG have spent a lot of resources tracking farm subsidy data. Why? I guarantee it is not a fiscally minded agenda. They are more concerned with politically correct agriculture than sustainable farms or government, and I guarantee if subsidies were increased and redirected to organic and local backyard production, the EWG data base would probably go away while the deficit grows and the check is in the mail for wealthy special interests.

As a free market oriented economist, I'm not the greatest fan of subsidies and government intervention. (although many of the negative claims made about subsidies such as impacting food prices, obesity, environmnetal consequences don't hold up to the data). Regardless of your opinion about about cutting farm subsidies, they do not belong in the context of a serious conversation about deficit reduction.

 

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COMMENTS (2 Comments)


This was probably one of the shortest posts I ever made, so I applologize if my broad strokes mischaracterized your organization. It is my contention that whenever I see the terms 'corporate agriculture', 'industrial agriculture', or 'factory farm' that they are used much like profanity, having strong emotional appeal, but little logical or empirical substance. Lots of times I see these terms used by media, in popular culture, by celbrities, and in politics to condemn modern sustainable forms of agriculture (which tend to be associated with larger efficient operations, CAFOs, biotechnology, pharmaceutical technologies) while lauding small scale, local, or organic production. Often times, terms like 'industrial agriculture' are used by people that appear to be promoting a pro 'family farm' agenda, while simultanously supporting policies that would undermine the technologies and practices used by most of our family farmers (which account for about 98% of all farms). Because of these politics, I tend to refer to popular food fads like 'small or anti-industrial', 'local', 'organic' etc. as 'politically correct' agriculture. I think that the market does a good job providing a niche for these products, and I have some favorite local and organic products that I consume, so my stance is not as much a condemnation of these practices as it is a defence of modern sustainable agriculture, which tends not to be 'politically correct' or embraced by popular culture or celebrities. By 'backyard' production, I hope you read my cynicism and sarcasm. By that I specifically mean a movement away from modern large scale production to more 'politically correct' production scales, i.e. smaller farms. I would also maintain that certain crops (fruits and vegetables) tend to be more politically correct than the staples that feed the world such as corn, wheat, and soybeans. The political attacks on high fructose corn syrup is another good example of what is and isn't politically correct agriculture.

Do I read your stuff? That is a fair question. I must admit, that mostly, I have been a consumer of EWG data (see: http://econometricsense.blogspot.com/2010/12/visualizing-agricultural-subsidies-by.html). I teach statistics and economics, and your data sets are a great source of information. However, I have occasionally noticed a few articles from the EWG web site that concern me. Particularly 'Government's Continuing Bailout of Corporate Agriculture.'

This statement:

"EWG has always maintained that they(subsidies) have a place, should be focused on small- to mid-sized farming operations with demonstrated economic need, and should have limits to prevent large farms from accumulating such a disproportionate share of the benefits."

is what lead me to believe that the EWG would favor continuing to subsidize smaller scale operations. The use of the term 'corporate agriculture' to me is also a red flag. Why use a term that applies to so few operations, when the article pertains to many many family farms?Non family owned corporate farms make up a very small proportion of farms and don't account for the majority of production. There is also a hint of populism/class envy here as well, adding another dimension to my notion of what is 'politically correct' agriculture. Later in the article it is stated:

"The vast majority of farm subsidies go to raw material for our industrialized food system, not to the foods we actually eat. Even less money goes to support the production of the fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a healthy diet."

This statement gives me the impression that the EWG would prefer subsidies be reallocated to fruits and vegetables vs. less 'politically correct' staples like corn, soybeans, and wheat.

Further, this article (which I have discussed previously here on AgWeb 'Women in Agriculture- by the Numbers' states :

"Big Ag is big business – and big profits. And when anyone raises questions about the billions of tax dollars lavished on the largest industrial growers of corn, soybeans and other commodity crops or points out the harm that these perverse incentives do to the environment, Big Ag’s lackeys lash out....They, and their fellow male organic farmers, follow practices that conserve soil and biological diversity by rotating crops and avoiding synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones and genetically-modified seed."

This article again asserts (correctly) that most subsidies go to the staples that feed the world, and the language again gives me the impression that EWG has a bias towards what I refer to as 'politically correct' agriculture.
8:36 AM Jul 14th
 
DonEWG - Washington, DC
Matt, u say:
"Some groups like the EWG have spent a lot of resources tracking farm subsidy data. Why? I guarantee it is not a fiscally minded agenda. They are more concerned with politically correct agriculture than sustainable farms or government, and I guarantee if subsidies were increased and redirected to organic and local backyard production, the EWG data base would probably go away while the deficit grows and the check is in the mail for wealthy special interests."

Please back up your assertions by telling me what "politically correct agriculture" is and how you came to write that its what we support. Also, please tell me where EWG asserts that subsides should be redirected to "backyard" production. If anything, we've been very clear that we'd like to see the subsidy dollars shifted to conservation payments. Do you actually read our stuff?


7:14 PM Jul 13th
 

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