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Apr 21, 2010 12:17 PM

What would happen to American Food if Government Subsidies were removed?

Would our diet change? Less milk and wheat?
More gardens? Local food?
Would we be healthier?
Just wondering.

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  1. The price of meat would go through the roof, for one thing. HFCS would probably disappear.

    7 Replies
    1. re: pikawicca

      I was thinking of crops more than meat, but why so?

      1. re: bbqboy

        Much of cattle feed these days is corn. Chicken feed, too, I think. Corn is extremely highly subsidized.

        1. re: bbqboy

          In the peak year of the ethanol frenzy, $7billion was wasted diverting corn to our gas tanks instead of feeding it to our traditional edible animals. Even our Congress figured out the folly of it in only a few years, to their credit.(?)
          Corn was meant to be eaten, not driven. It's not nice to fool mother nature.

          1. re: Veggo

            Yes and it caused serious corn shortages in Mexico. That's like a rice shortage in Asia, for pete's sake!

            1. re: Veggo

              corn was "meant" to make more corn.

              eating it or driving are both using nature

              1. re: thew

                in ethanol's case, corn is both eaten *and* driven. the ethanol plants extract the alcohol (sugar) from the corn, albeit in a ridiculously energy-and-water-inefficient manner. they produce ethanol and wastewater from it. what happens to the millions of tons of corn slurry after the alcohol is extracted, you ask? why, it's shipped across the country, of course--to the cafos in california and utah, where poor animals flank-deep in filth are fed this waste sludge in order to produce cheap milk and meat. a whole 'nother layer of agribusiness enviro-crappiness, and NOBODY talks about it.

            2. re: bbqboy

              Also a lot of meat-producers get subsidized access to government land and water, and in many cases they do not have to pay to get rid of the wastes. So yeah, the price of meat would be way higher.

              Chicken often costs about the same as onions and potatoes. This just doesn't make sense.

          2. The costs of a lot of foods would increase. Packaged/processed foods that use a lot of corn and soy derivatives would cost as much as "whole" versions of similar products. I also hope that the end of subsidies would encourage producers to diversify so they aren't dependent on the boom/bust of a single crop.

            1 Reply
            1. re: mpjmph


              And maybe a home gardening and backyard chicken revolution? Knock wood.


              Yes, our diets would change, and after a prolonged period of skyrocketing food prices and general chaos, the dust would settle and we would be better for it. The real need is to change the focus of the subsidies:


              1. US agricultural subsidies that appear at first blush to be helpful to Americans come with subtle but pernicious damaging effects. Most of the world condemns these subsidies as unfair trade practices, and the WTO (World Trade Organization) has approved numerous retaliatory tariffs on US products in efforts to level the playing field for international trade that we pretend to advocate. Quick example: Brazil, the worlds largest exporter of beef, orange juice, and coffee, is imposing $600M of tariffs on over 100 American products, because of an 8 year dispute over US subsidies to its cotton farmers. Yes, cotton farmers. Subsidies, in addition to increasing the national debt, can increase the cost of other items on your plate, and such protectionist policies are guaranteed to cause American jobs to be lost.
                No free lunches, folks, don't kid yourself. Just an inexorable shift of more of the world's wealth to those who already have most of it and who make political contributions.

                22 Replies
                1. re: Veggo

                  Hallelujah, amen. Thank you (and also to bushwickgirl).

                  1. re: Veggo

                    I especially appreciate the part about shifting wealth to those who already have it. I often talk to people who support farm subsidies because they still have a very idyllic image of the American farm. The truth is that farm subsidies as they stand now hurt farmers more than they help - farmers growing commodities barely break even and often lose money on their actual harvest so their only income is from subsidies. Farmers growing crops without subsidies are forced to compete with artificially cheap products.

                    I don't think we can just pull the rug out and eliminate subsidies in one fell swoop. We have a lost generation of farmers who don't necessarily know how to grow, harvest, and sell without subsidies.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      There is another side to U.S. farm/agriculture subsidies as well. Obesity. Yes! AMERICAN obesity. Think about it. You can buy a hamburger for a dollar (well, usually ninety nine cents) at just about any fast food chain in the U.S. Now think of a family with two or more children and two working parents who do not make 100k a year with their combined incomes. Mom has worked all day, Dad has worked all day, the kids are hungry NOW, and you CANNOT buy the ingredients to make a nutritious family meal at the supermarket for the price of one ninety nine cent hamburger each. At today's prices, chances are you can't buy enough brocolli for everyone to have a single serving each for the price of those extremely subsidized and very unhealthy ninety nine cent hamburgers. Subsidies are killing us in more than one way. Many ways. And taking the rest of the world down with us. Can we back track safely from where we are? No. There will be heavy consequences, but they are needed if we are going to pass good health onto future generations.

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        Man cannot live on hamburgers alone... people are going to get fries and a drink with that. If a family of four eats entirely off the value menu, that means they are usually going to spend $12 on a McDinner. Instead, they can go to the market and get a chicken to roast for under $5, a couple of heads of broccoli for about $3, some pasta (or a simple rice pilaf) for $1, and still have $3 left to spend... swing by Trader Joe's and get a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck and they've beaten McDonald's by a dollar and are having WINE to drink instead of soda. Now admittedly this isn't free-range organic chicken (and those grocery chickens are cheap thanks to corn subsidies), but it's still a meal I'd be proud to serve to company any time. And you know what? It's EASY. Thanks to the proliferation of grocery store rotisserie chickens, people are convinced that cooking a bird is some kind of strange magic to only be attempted by professionals. Pshaw, I say. Dry off a bird with paper towels, rub it down with salt and pepper (and whatever seasonings tickle your fancy), stick it in a 350° oven for an hour, and BOOM dinner is on the table. Really. That's all there is to it. Steam some vegetables (or roast them while the chicken cooks) and you have yourself a complete meal.

                        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                          To be fair to Caroline, she noted that Mom and Dad are both worn out from work, so perhaps taking an hour to roast the chicken and the effort to make the meal is asking a bit much five days a week.

                          But, as you noted, roasted chickens are available in many groceries for about $6, a bag of salad is $1, commercial salad dressing is $1.49 (this assumes they're too tired to shake some oil and vinegar with a few herbs together), and a big bag of frozen mixed veg is generally only $3. So, again, for about the same money they would spend at a fast food joint, they get a better meal nutritionally, with very little extra effort (throwing some veg in a bowl to microwave doesn't sound like much work to me!), and probably some leftovers (at least the dressing and the veg should be good for a couple of meals). So, they'd even have some money to splurge and buy some donuts or cookies for dessert!

                        2. re: Caroline1

                          "Can we back track safely from where we are?" Sure. Pick a date certain, say 5 years, when absurd subsidies will sunset, and allow growers time to make rational market adjustments with a minimum of disruption. The exception will be tobacco subsidies, because the $206 billion, 25 year Master Settlement Agreement between participating states and major tobacco producers provides unprecedented legal protection and a virtual guarantee of ongoing subsidies to that crop / industry. States are hopelessly addicted to tobacco money.

                          1. re: Veggo


                            The above is a link to the film "Food, INC" that was part of PBS/s POV broadcast last night. It is available on-line for viewing free until next Thursday, 29 April 2010. I highly recommend everyone take the time to view it. It is an eye opener.

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              I saw this last night. It was mind blowing. It supports what people are saying in this thread about corn subsidies, unhealthy ingredients, and the terrible effects of big agribusiness on health, workers, and environment. And how the people at the tops of the regulatory bodies have backgrounds and deep ties to the very industries they are supposed to regulate.

                              Please do see it, if you haven't already done so.

                              If I didn't already eat vegetarian, and as organic, locavore, and seasonal as I could, I would after seeing this.

                              1. re: Rasam

                                Well, I didn't come away thinking vegetarian is all that "safe" either. Have you thought much about the segments on soybean crops in the U.S. and Monsanto? For those who haven't had the time or inclination to watch the film, there was a time when soybean farmers (well, all farmers, not just soybean farmers) cleaned and stored a portion of their crop as seed for the next year. Then Monsanto developed the herbicide "Round Up," and along with it, they developed a genetically modified soybean seed they call "Round Up Ready Soybean Seeds." AND...! They applied for and were granted a patent on the seeds. End result, farmers who grow Monsanto's genetically modified seeds can "cropdust" their fields cheaply and effectively. BUT... they CANNOT clean and save seeds for the following year because that would be copyright infringement. They MUST buy new seeds from Monsanto EVERY planting season!

                                All of this is compounded by the fact that U.S. law does NOT require that genetically modified foods be identified as such on labels for consumers. In 1996, only 2% of the soybeans in the U.S. came from Monsanto seeds. Twelve years later (2006) a whopping 90% of all soybean seeds grown in the U.S. were Monsanto, and guess how much natural cross pollenation had to do with that?

                                Before anyone starts thinking this is an inappropriate place for such a detailed discussion, PLEASE stop and ask yourself how much of the food you eat every day of your life in the U.S. contains soybeans? Edamame and tofu aren't even the tip of the iceberg!

                                We desperately need some changes in our food supply, laws governing it, and whether it is ethical to allow patents on life forms to be held by anyone/thing. Soybeans may not attend kindergarten, but they ARE a life form. And Monsanto is now a stand alone soybean monopoly.

                                Personally, I would LOVE to see all of the independent soybean growers (or as many as are left) ban together, find themselves a great team of pro bono lawyers, and sue the pants off Monsanto for "allowing" their gmo soybeans to contaminate their crops! Wow. What if they won...! If only I were fifty years younger and had gone to law school. '-)

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  >>"guess how much natural cross pollenation had to do with that"<<

                                  Um, none.

                                  The whole "natural cross-pollination" thing is an urban myth. It was cooked up as a defense by a Canadian farmer who was sued by Monsanto for infringing its patents. The media seized on this David-versus-Goliath story and portrayed the farmer as an innocent victim of corporate greed.

                                  Problem is, the farmer was lying. He'd procured Monsanto seed from a third party and was re-planting it, which is a violation of the patent. He had no serious evidence to back up his claims, and the court (which not sympathetic to Monsanto) found that his story was an obvious fabrication.

                                  Did the media jump in and inform the public that they'd told a story that was based on falsehoods? Not a chance. And so that story keeps getting repeated as though it were true despite the fact that it's demonstrably false.

                                  The reason that Roundup-ready soy is so prevalent is because it's more profitable to buy Monsanto seed and use cheap herbicides than to save your own seed and use other weed control methods. Whether that's a good thing is a legitimate topic for debate. But that debate should be based on facts, not myths.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    Whoa, whoa, whoa, whao there, Lone Ranger! WHERE did I say anything about a specific lawsuit? What I did and am saying again here and now is that you cannot grow adjacent fields of soybeans and prevent cross pollenation from occuring. Well, I guess you could raise either the natural or the genetically modified soybeans in a hot house. How many acres can you put under a hothouse roof? But I did make a wrong statement as to how soybeans are pollenated. They are NOT primarily fertilized by pollen spread by the wind, but by pollen spread by bees.

                                    I say again that anyone who farms soybeans in a region not geographically isolated from other farmers growing RRSoybeans CANNOT clean and save his own seeds for planting the following year BECAUSE bees are so damned stupid they don't know they are breaking the law if they pollenate a non-RoundUpReady soybean with a RRsoybean. As things stand now, should a farmer clean and save his seed and they have been cross pollenated with RRseed, then he MUST be able to prove in court that he did not intentionally try to cheat Monsanto. And Monsanto DOES file such lawsuits. Do you have any idea what the legal fees to the individual farmers are on such cases? Do you have any idea of the incredibly expensive delaying tactics Monstanto's aerie of legal eagles can impose on that poor farmer before the case comes to trial? THAT is the bottom line. Independent farmers are being driven out of business by this fact of nature and very poorly thought out patent laws.

                                    Anyway, I personally do not like eating genetically modifed food, but when there's no law requiring clear labeling, what can I do? I've naturally got two very brown thumbs and plants commit suicide when I walk by, so growing my own food means certain starvation. '-).

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      Sorry, C1, but you're wrong.

                                      The bees don't break the law when they pollinate a traditional plant with a GM plant. The farmer doesn't break the law when he cleans and saves seeds from that cross-pollinated plant. And he sure as hell doesn't have to "be able to prove in court that he did not intentionally try to cheat Monsanto. "

                                      If Monsanto was routinely suing farmers who grow casually cross-pollinated crops, the outcry would be unbelievable. In fact, Monsanto files a small number of suits against farmers who intentionally commit patent infringement.

                                      In each of those suits, Monsanto bears the burden of proof. Thing about it is, that burden is usually very easy to meet, since in most of the cases the poor helpless farmers you feel so badly for have flagrantly stolen Monsanto's technology. In fact, the intentional conduct is sometimes so egregious that the judge refers the farmer to law enforcement for prosecution.

                                      The case that generated all the hoopla involved a farmer named Perry Schmeiser. He denied that he intentionally planted Roundup-ready canola [I mistakenly referred to him as a soybean farmer previously], instead claiming that it must have gotten into his fields by cross-pollination or spills from passing trucks. The judge found that "none of the suggested sources could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality." But that wasn't the basis for Schmeiser's liability.

                                      The basis for liability was the undisputed fact that Schmeiser deliberately killed off all the conventional canola plants in the field by spraying them with Roundup, then cleaned and kept the Roundup-ready seeds for planting the next year. In other words, he eliminated everything **except** the patented product. The judge specifically noted that ”infringement arises not simply from occasional or limited contamination of his Roundup susceptible canola by plants that are Roundup resistant. He planted his crop for 1998 with seed that he knew or ought to have known was Roundup tolerant."

                                      As for the cost of defending litigation, it's a cost of business. And if Mr. Schmeiser had played by the rules instead of trying to get improved seed for free, he would have been entitled to recover his attorney fees from Monsanto. But he didn't; he stole the technology and got caught.

                                      I'm no fan of Monsanto, and I have serious qualms about whether monoculture in general, or genetically modified food in particular, are a good thing. But if we're going to take on agribusiness, isn't it better to pick battles where we have a chance of winning?

                                      The claim that Monsanto is oppressing poor independent farmers with frivolous patent lawsuits is disinformation, plain and simple. And people who repeat that claim in the face of the facts tend to lose credibility. Maybe some modern progressives want to sign on with Goebbels' "Big Lie" approach to propaganda, but you can count me out.

                                  2. re: Caroline1

                                    Yes Caroline1: I agree with what you say. Vegetarian is not the magic bullet solution here. Your remarks on soybeans, Monsanto, independent food growers, food supplies and subsidies etc. are spot on. Though the bulk of soybeans and corn are fed to cattle, not to the edamame and tofu eating humans.

                                    It is just that after seeing the sections on the factory farmed chickens, the appalling hog waste lagoons, and the absolutely unspeakable unimaginable horror of the huge CAFOs, where the animals are standing ankle deep in their own manure, the "downers" with broken legs are shoved by forklifts, the workers are treated almost as badly as the animals, etc. I cannot get those images out of my mind, and cannot imagine thinking of those products as food.

                                    Polyface farm looked idyllic in contrast. People who still choose to eat meat would ideally patronize such operations.

                                    I would love to hear from the group here concrete suggestions and actions we as consumers can take to put pressure on these abhorrent practices. I know I am right now going to find room in my pretty skimpy food budget for organic dairy and eggs from a local farm which is known for good practices. (Logically, I should go vegan, but am only halfway there. One day I hope..)

                                    Any other suggestions?

                                    1. re: Rasam

                                      For me, the "food battle" is now a thirty year long war. I was given three units of whole blood during a surgery. I have come to call it (not entirely jokingly) "Sangre de Wino." Prior to those transfusions, I was allergic to penecillin and California bottled white wine because most CA vinyards used a specific type of plastic tubing to put the wine in the bottles. I am allergic to that specific plastic. After the transfusions, I was allergice to all foods except white rice. That was thirty years ago, and my great good fortune in all of that mess was falling into the hands of a truly great allergist who spent a lot of time teaching me about allergies, my immune system, and how to manage things.

                                      Today, thirty years later, I can eat most things, but the things I cannot handle is "garden variety" eggs, milk, meat, and poulty. While there IS an FDA ban on feeding animals growth hormone or antibiotics for a specific time period before slaughter, the FDA does not have enough inspectors to make sure that is abided by. Consequently, I have many many many times bought a lovely looking roast at my supermarket, cooked it, and one small test serving kicks my systemic allergies through the roof, and I end up having to throw away or give away the food.

                                      End result is that I have to have organic milk and eggs if I don't want to play Russian roulette. Consequently, I DO buy organic milk and produce at WalMart. Have for a long time. Why? To encourage Walmart to "go green!" But I never never EVER buy meat from Walmart. But if they go organic AND grass fed on beef, I would buy from them.

                                      I no longer eat nearly the amount of beef I did as a kid. Simply cannot afford it. But I *DO* eat the same kind of beef I did as a kid. Organic grass fed dry aged beef. I get it on the web. Expensive, but worth it. Did you know that grass fed beef has the same health benefits as salmon? GOOD cholesterol! Organic bufallo is even better, if hard to find.

                                      Years ago, possibly way back in the 60s when "scientists" first began pushing the health benefits of margarine over butter, with not a clue about trans fats, there was a big U.S. headscratching over why the population of a specific group of islands off the coast of Britain (Orkneys? Shetlands? I no longer recall) had a population that ate far more beef and butter than Americans did, yet there was NO cholesterol problem or any other dietary dangers the American beef diet carried. The consensus at the time was that it was "probably" in the genes of that population group. They were right about that, but wrong about which population group. It is in the genes of ALL cattle to produce health promoting meat when they are allowed to graze on grasses as they have for millenia. Feed steers corn in a feed lot for even a short time before slaughter and all of those benefits go out the window!

                                      Oh, and just for the record, all of those ecoli bacteria that cows spread around the slaughter houses and feed lots is much higher than normal for cows, and a somewhat different type of e-coli. Stop feeding cows corn, and put them on a grass diet for just five days prior to slaugher and they will shed 80% of the e-coli in their system. But they will also loose a bit of weight, so that would not maximize agribusiness' bottom line so it is simply unthinkable in the industry.

                                      The battle for the least harmful diet is up to each of us as individuals. In the U.S. (but please, God, NOT in the rest of the world!) the "public good" is pretty much a thing of the past. There are just so very many things stacked against us. We have no way of knowing how many of the plants we eat are genetically engineered, or how much of the meat we eat is from cloned animals. If none at the moment, what about the future? The law does not require disclosure! The laws and practices that govern the food industry have been pretty much filed down and made ineffectual. You cannot go with wreckless mass production of food (and I say wreckless because the very forces that drive mass production to meet the needs of our overpopulation do not allow for much prudence when it comes to safety standards) and not end up paying the consequences all along the way. To my way of t hinking, the choices seem to be to legislatively and forcefully slow down agribusiness so that they practice greater food safety standards. But what happens then? Food production is slowed and we have a lot of hunger, possibly even starvation, as a result. Let it go on as is and we have frequent and constant outbreaks of food born illness and death, such as we have seen over the last decade and more, as a result of ecoli, salmonella, and even occasional botulism. The U.S. is, in my opinion, quite literally damned if we do and damned if we don't.

                                      So on a personal level, I DO shop at my local farmers markets when appropriate, and I DO shop at Walmart for organics because that's a great help to my food budget and I want to do all I can to encourage the "big guys" to go green. And I do buy my grass fed organic dry aged beef on the internet, and don't eat beef nearly as often as I did in my younger years. I buy grass fed butter on the web because it is as healthy as olive oil, but it's about eight bucks a pound with shipping. So I'm using about as much olive oil in my diet as I did when I lived in Greece. (I swear, Greeks drizzle olive oil on Jell-O! <g> Only a slight hyperbole.) I buy as much organic produce as I can find and/or afford. And I worry a whoooooole lot about the world my 7 year old grandson is inheriting.

                                      Oh... And while I'm sharing worries, I also worry a lot about Icelandic volcanoes BECAUSE... If they keep erupting like this, they can have a very negative impact on food production on a global level! When will those Iclanders figure out all they have to do to get things under control is toss a few virgins in the damned things? But I've been advised in another forum that there are no virgins in Iceland. Such a problem!

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        Just wanted to thank you for posting this link to Food Inc. I'm in the food business and thought I knew everything about mass production of meat and produce, but this gave me a lot of "food for thought". So many of our friends see things like this and instantly become vegan or whatever: but they picked all the right people to speak to to get me thinking about alternatives, with no hysterics or over reaction. I won't become vegetarian but I might just start buying a lot more locally from now on. Thanks again for making me think a I see what all the hubbub is about.

                                        1. re: coll

                                          This is really great! You've made my day, coll. You are a light in the darkness. Thank you!

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            And I've already been discussing my thoughts with others, and finding reinforcement, so it will be multiplied many time over, thanks again.

                                        2. re: Caroline1

                                          Ouch! As an Icelander (Islander) I resemble that remark.

                                          1. re: EAH

                                            ermmmmm.... Volcano proof? '-)

                                      2. re: Caroline1

                                        "All of this is compounded by the fact that U.S. law does NOT require that genetically modified foods be identified as such on labels for consumers."

                                        I didn't know that U.S. had that lack of standards. I mean if almost everyone is against genetically modified crops, shouldn't at the least be a label? I thought U.S. has really high standards compared to Mexico, yet sometimes I'm not sure if the U.S. has enough standards.

                                2. re: Caroline1

                                  Indeed, this conversation started on another board where we were discussing the
                                  Mens Health annual survey of fat cites,

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    It kills me how we encourage cheap food over good healthy food. This is our fuel, what keeps us alive, what can make us healthy. Shouldn't we be putting in the best rather than the cheapest? It's not so much the prices but the fact that cooking is a skill that at best is on life support in this country these days. And I don't mean elaborate dishes, I mean roasting a chicken and steaming some veggies, or making a stew in a slow cooker. But no, it's far easier for us to be sold the convenience crap and factory-farmed abused corpses called meat and have "value" drilled into our heads than to actually put any effort into making meals for ourselves and our families. Here's a great thread about eating well while being poor--the OP is on disability and food stamps and does NOT resort to fast food or convenience foods:


                                3. You'd needn't think too long about this, because of the structure of the US Senate and the Guarantee Clause of the US Constitution means that there will always be enough votes to filibuster any significant re-ordering of farm subsidies.