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Friday, May 14, 2010

Weiland: Reform Farm Bill, Focus on Healthy Food

Folks on both sides of the aisle tell me Dr. Kevin Weiland would have gotten creamed if he had run for Congress and brought up his stance against our current farm subsidy program. I say, so what?! You run on principle, and maybe you get beat 90–10 the first time. You run again, get it down to 80–20, then 70–30... and pretty soon, the majority gets what you're talking about!

But hey, Dr. Weiland isn't running for anything, so he's free to start the conversation about why our current "fat farm bill" is unhealthy for America right now:

We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on farm subsidies since 1996 with almost 80 percent going to the production of four major groups: food grains, feed grains, oilseeds and cotton. The food industry has profited by the mere fact that it is relatively inexpensive to fatten cattle with government-subsidized grain and to buy cheap industrial food additives such as flour, corn starch, corn syrup and soybean oil for its products.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Food Review, Volume 25, Issue 3, "nutritious foods have increased in price by nearly 38 percent" while the price of high-calorie items such as soft drinks has decreased by 25 percent since the inception of the Freedom to Farm Act in 1996. The price for this cheap food comes at the expense of our health, however.

We have more than 33 million people in the United States alone with the type of diabetes seen in people who are overweight. Additionally, our government health agencies are concerned about the epidemic of childhood obesity [Dr. Kevin J. Weiland, "Federal Farm Subsidies Fattening America," that Sioux Falls paper, 2010.05.14].

Fattening America? Well, Kristi Noem doesn't look much worse for wear....

Blue Dogs like Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota continue to defend the status quo, where the focus of the farm bill is on propping up corporate farms rather than feeding Americans good food. But like it or not, our farm policy supports crappy food and crappy health outcomes. Even anti-government Republicans like Senator John Thune disguise corporate welfare as a "farm safety net" that favors the wrong crops and makes neither economic nor environmental sense.

Dr. Weiland is right: we need a broader conversation about farm policy. Farm policy shouldn't be just about production and profit any more than energy policy should be. Farm policy should involve all stakeholders: farmers, eaters, doctors, and everyone else affected by the externalities of unhealthy industrial agriculture.

Bonus Web Reading:
  • Weiland on why grass-fed beef is healthier than feedlot beef
  • Research showing red meat and processed meat increase your risk of dying (the researchers do not break down differences between free range and feedlot).


  1. For another view of the Farm Bill, see "Forty Years After NEPA’s Enactment, It Is Time for a Comprehensive Farm Bill Environmental Impact Statement."

    The authors are the President of Plains Justice and one of our former legal interns.

    Kelly Fuller
    Communications Director
    Plains Justice
    Vermillion, SD

  2. Interesting how welfare isn't welfare if it's given to corporations, even though they are, according to the Supreme Court, individuals, nor is it welfare if it's given to what in the State of ____ (fill in with your place) is the main industry.

  3. Good Cory... or in other words:

    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." - Mahatma Gandhi

  4. I am a political conservative who is against the farm bill and it's shoring up of corn, beans and beets.
    My husband is a liberal who things some reform would be a good thing.


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