Harm bill

I know I’m not the only one who hates the current U.S. Farm Bill. Why? Because among other things, it uses federal money to subsidize foods that are making us fat.

Nowadays, the bill’s original intentions (to subsidize the income of farmers and help ensure a stable food supply for the American people, just to name of couple) are all but obsolete.

Yet, the bill really hasn’t changed for decades. The current subsidies are barley, corn, cotton, oats, rice, sorghum, soybeans, wheat, and sugar. Apart from cotton, I don’t see anything that isn’t fattening on that list.

The negative implications of the Farm Bill are clear as day. And yet, when’s the last time the media pointed out that our government is practically funding the obesity epidemic with this legislative nonsense?

It just doesn’t happen. But maybe that’s about to change.

To my surprise, a recent article featured in JAMA suggested that agricultural subsidies may play a role in our country’s current health predicament.

Hmm…you think?

There is no doubt in my mind that the U.S. Farm Bill practically created the obesity epidemic by making energy-dense, nutritionally devoid foods both cheap and plentiful.

And yes, it all started with good intentions. But like everything else, it has been corrupted by corporate America.

Today, farming in this country is controlled by major corporations. And they benefit greatly from the subsidies this bill provides.

Let me put this into perspective for you. In 2001, large agribusinesses comprised 7 percent of this country’s farmland. Yet, they received a hearty 45 percent of U.S. farm subsidies.

Meanwhile, small farms accounted for 76 percent of the farmland in the United States. And how much of the Farm Bill pie did they get? Just 14 percent.

So is it any wonder that the cost of fruits and vegetables skyrocketed by 118 percent between the years of 1985 and 2000? While all the other junk crops saw price increases of just 35 percent?

And don’t forget that large agribusinesses have plenty of cash to spend on advertising and promoting these cheap, unhealthy foods. (Enough that many people have actually begun to believe that they’re healthy.)

This just increases demand further. And as the American people get fatter, and continue to eat even more, the market for low-cost, high-volume junk food just keeps on growing, too.

It’s a win-win for big business…and a major loss for public health and safety. Especially when you consider the wider socioeconomic implications of this legislation.

You see, the Farm Bill provides for the Food Stamp program, which serves 15 percent of the U.S. population. It also contributes to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Special Supplement Program.

Together, these initiatives could promote nutritious and sustainable eating habits in high-risk populations. But the amount of money these programs dole out isn’t typically enough to buy more expensive, healthy foods.

What’s worse, bureaucratic red tape prevents many people with food stamps from using them at local farmers markets–the best place to buy nutritious, sustainable food anywhere. (Some “farm bill,” isn’t it?)

The bottom line? This Farm Bill is making it impossible for our nation to reverse the deadly obesity and diabetes epidemics that are killing us.

And it’s going to take long and loud protests from public health officials, politicians, health care professionals, economists, academics, and of course, the American public to put a stop to it.

We are drowning in a sea of fat. And without every player in the amazingly complex world of food coming together and demanding a change, we are never going to get healthy.

So let’s stop talking and make it happen. Demand fresh, local, and seasonal produce at your corner store. Write to your congressperson about this important issue. And above all, choose healthier food products for yourself and your family.

Because if you don’t eat it, they won’t produce it. Simple as that.

Agricultural Subsidies: Are They a Contributing Factor to the American Obesity Epidemic? Arch Intern Med. 2012 Oct 29:1-2.