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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Worthwhile OSPIRG Effort

L├ęgumesImage via WikipediaIt's bad enough that we so often fail to do what needs to be done. What's even worse is when we subsidize things that absolutely should NOT be done, such as the conversion of corn into a diluted, lower-energy form of motor fuel (ethanol), which robs the land of productivity and people of food, while helping prop up a high-input, destructive, highly-petrochemical-dependent and polluting form of industrial agribusiness. The capture of the US Department of Agriculture by Big Agribusiness is one of the travesties of our time, and we're all paying the price. OSPIRG has joined a good campaign to turn the "Farm Bill" back into a slightly less horrific thing, and it's worth your support.

Oregon is blessedly free of the worst of this, but there are definitely pressures to keep pushing small farms off the land and consolidate more and more. By helping make the Farm Bill into more of a "Food Bill," you are helping preserve our single most important asset, our fertile land and soil.
When Jack Hedin, a Minnesota farmer, rented a few acres of land from neighboring corn farms to grow watermelons, tomatoes and other vegetables for a local health food store, he learned first-hand how unhelpful farm subsidies can be.

Jack ended up paying $8,771 in fines for one growing season [1] because, as he learned, it’s illegal to use land marked for corn to grow anything that isn’t subsidized. Corn or soy — often the main ingredients in processed junk food? Good to go. Fresh fruit and vegetables? Not so fast.

At a time when nearly one in three kids in the United States is overweight or obese, we can't let our farm policies continue to underwrite cheap junk food.

Thanks to a historic opportunity, now's our chance to end these handouts. We're hoping to get another 40 supporters to give $40 to expand our campaign.

Can you chip in to help us demonstrate the public support it will take to deliver a win?

In anticipation of a larger Farm Bill next year, the House has introduced a bill that would reform the worst of these subsidies, cutting $28 billion over the next 10 years from the program that is responsible for making unhealthy processed food so cheap and ubiquitous. This bill is an important first step and an unprecedented opportunity.

The opportunity exists because the public is increasingly aware that agribusiness subsidies are misdirected.

Agribusinesses, to prevent farmers like Jack from competing, have carved out a convenient system for themselves. Of course, they are doing everything they can to keep these handouts.

Consider this:

  • The richest 4% of agribusinesses — which includes giants Cargill and Monsanto — receive almost three-quarters of the subsidies.
  • 87% Oregon farmers receive no subsidy payments at all. [2]
  • In the last presidential election year alone, these big agribusinesses spent more than $200 million on lobbying and campaign contributions.
  • Cargill, one such giant agribusiness, is receiving government assistance even though it’s is the largest privately owned corporation in America and recently reported quarterly profits of $1.49 billion.
I’m still confident that we can win, because when I talk to people about this campaign, they’re just outraged. We’ve talked to thousands of Oregonians who now know how the government is underwriting the childhood obesity epidemic — and many of them won’t stand for it either.

It will take that public outrage to push past the junk food lobby and convince Congress to act. That’s why we’re:

Organizing grassroots support to put pressure on our representatives;

Building a strong coalition of children’s advocacy, public health and taxpayer groups to join us; and

Publishing research and getting our message out in the media. And to do all that, we're hoping to get another 40 supporters to give $40 in next two weeks to expand our campaign. Can you help with a donation right now?

Thanks for all you do.

David Rosenfeld, OSPIRG Executive Director

[1]. New York Times, "My Forbidden Fruits (and Vegetables)".
[2]. Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database.

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