The Secret History of the Farm Bill

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farm bill

The Secret History of the Farm Bill

We Americans believe we pay too much for food.

Actually, food costs as a percentage of our income were much higher in the past than they are today.

In fact our food prices are artificially cheap.

In the US we have come to expect – and even feel entitled to – certain things being cheap:  gas, food, news, and anything made in China.

Our buying habits have encouraged this belief in ways people don’t usually consider, and its effects are deeper and more harmful than we may realize.

You can witness the effect of price and money in our current recession.

All the righteous griping from environmentalists barely makes an impression on Americans’ buying habits, but with a financial crisis and all the fear coming with it, shopping comes to a screeching halt and the whole economic system starts falling apart.

“Only when the tide goes out do you learn who’s been swimming naked,” says investor Warren Buffet.

In some ways, the whole country is swimming naked.

In our quest for higher-paying jobs and ever-growing corporate profits, we’ve outsourced production of most of our daily needs, including food, and forgotten the importance of supporting our own communities.

In our quest for cheap stuff, not only have we compromised our civic and social honor and integrity, we’ve also eroded our national security, physical health, and independence by relying on imported goods to fulfill our most basic needs.

Farmers struggle with this conundrum on a daily basis.

The American minimum wage is over $7 per hour.

In other parts of the world, millions of people live on $1 a day.

American farmers find using chemicals far more cost-effective than hiring labor they may not be able to trust or who may be illegal immigrants.

We Americans like to think we’re patriotic and complain about foreigners usurping our market share, but every time we go to the supermarket, we look only for the best deal we can get.

So companies making corn chips have an incentive to find cheaper corn from another country (shipping included).

Consumers bemoan the higher prices charged for organic foods.

Many people view “organic” as a fashion or lifestyle choice rather than a responsible health and environmental choice, so it’s no surprise sales for organic products slow when money gets right.

Why are organic foods more expensive?

The answer might surprise you.

Blame it on the farm bill.

Every few years, Congress enacts legislation setting agriculture policy for the US.

Cheap food wouldn’t be possible without it.

And, if not for the farm bill, organic foods would cost less than other foods.

How’s that possible?

The first farm bill was passed in 1933 to provide price stability for American farmers suffering through the Great Depression.

At the time, deflation caused prices for farm-raised products to fall more than 50%, while farmers’ costs decreased by only 32%.

During the Depression, people were hungry because they couldn’t afford to buy food, though farmers were producing plenty of it.

They just weren’t able to sell it, though, which led to even more hunger.

The solution:  Pay farmers not to grow so much with the goal of balancing supply and demand and helping them earn a better price.

In 1933 alone, 6 million piglets were slaughtered.

And so it began.

The US Supreme Court invalidated the act in 1936 because the money paid out in subsidies wasn’t being distributed for “the general good.”

But with the addition of a few rules for soil conservation, which Congress believed would ensure enough foods and agricultural fibers in the future, the farm bill began its long and convoluted journey.

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If you’d like to read Organic Manifesto, go here Organic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe


Dick and Lenay

email: – 715-431-0657

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