Enough food is grown worldwide to feed 10 billion people. Still, 795 million individuals go to bed hungry each evening. The conundrum stems from corporate greed and the Freedom to Farm Act which no longer serves small farmers or the American populace.
When one?s worldview is engulfed by the culture one lives in, it can become difficult to discern the aspects of society which do not support the entire populace. Open-minded inspection, however, oftentimes results in the seeker unearthing connections between the many parts of his or her culture and persistent global concerns. In this case, an argument can be made for the correlations between the United States? agricultural subsidies programs and conundrums, such as environmental degradation, economic downturn, and poor health in an affluent nation. After tedious study and consideration, it can be concluded that a revision of government subsidies, which neither support small farmers or American citizens, would benefit the economy, environment, and populace?s health.
Despite the fact that the United States spends over $3.5 trillion on healthcare each year, its populace is one of the sickest on the planet. More than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and?nearly 70% of the population takes one or more prescription drugs. Though the CDC, in a report entitled ?Up to 40 Percent of Annual Deaths from Each of Five Leading US Causes Are Preventable,? admits that a minimum of 40% of diseases of affluence can be prevented by adopting healthier dietary and lifestyle habits, to do so is out of reach for many Americans. Only 1 in 10 U.S. citizens consumes the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables, and it is arguable that this is because fresh produce is more expensive than packaged products, which are made of refined fillers sourced from crops that are subsidized. The agricultural subsidies program – a governmental subsidy paid to farmers and agribusinesses to supplement their incomes, manages the supply of agricultural commodities and influences the cost and supply of such commodities – was introduced a century ago with the intent of helping to enrich the economy before and during the Great Depression. Since the program launched, however, it has developed into a system that no longer supports the foundational needs of the populace. If a major revision of the agricultural subsidies program was implemented to ensure high-quality, plant-based foods were affordable to all people, many factors in American culture would likely benefit.
To support the World War I effort, the first American agricultural assistance programs were developed in the 1920?s; the intention was to address ramped-up growing patterns the farmers had developed, such as their ability to cultivate mono crops, including wheat, corn, and soy. After the war ended, farmers continued to grow crops at a record pace, eventually resulting in a glut of produce soon followed by plummeting prices, relays Scott Fields in the journal entitled ?The Fat of the Land: Do Agricultural Subsidies Foster Poor Health?? To manage the amount and types of crops grown by farmers, the U.S. government began purchasing cotton and grains on the open market in an attempt to stabilize prices. Doing so, however, only encouraged farmers to grow more of those same crops. Eventually, techniques – including fixing quotas for certain farm products, removing surplus products from the marketplace, and paying farmers not to plant – crops were implemented. Until the 1960?s, farm subsidies began to taper off until the Nixon administration agreed to sell millions of bushels of grain to the Soviet Union and, in result, caused shortages and a spike in prices. According to Richard Wiles, a senior vice president for the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, the result was a surplus of basic commodities – primarily wheat, soybeans, and cotton – and plummeting prices for the products to the open market. In 2002, the government attempted to eliminate government subsidies altogether through the Freedom to Farm Act, but instead gave farmers fixed amounts of money based on what they had grown in earlier years. Says Wiles,
?It grandfathered everybody who received subsidies at that time so that they could get subsidies forever, whether or not they grow anything. It turned the commodity payments into commodities themselves that could be passed around, sold, and traded.”
Critics of the system believe that this ?welfare? benefits huge agricultural corporations – such as giant farms, grain brokers, food processors, fast-food chains, and prepackaged food companies – more than small-scale family farms, which have difficulty competing with agricultural conglomerates. The main crops grown today – corn, soy, and wheat – are predominantly used to feed livestock rather than the populace, and herein lie the many problems.
At present, enough food is cultivated on the planet to feed 10 billion people. Richard Oppenlander, however, in his book ?Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won?t Work,? relays that approximately 70% of the major staples grown in the U.S. are fed to animals, such as cows, chickens, and pigs intended for slaughter and consumption. This insight is important?because 795 million people go to bed hungry each evening around the world. The study “Livestock Production: Energy Inputs and the Environment? conducted by ecologist David Pimentel of Cornell University reveals that the amount of crops grown in the United States alone could feed 800 million people. Clearly, the agricultural subsidies program is not supporting the American populace?s best interest. Says Pimentel,
“More than half the U.S. grain and nearly 40 percent of world grain is being fed to livestock rather than being consumed directly by humans. Although grain production is increasing in total, the per capita supply has been decreasing for more than a decade. Clearly, there is reason for concern in the future.”?
To grasp how a more intelligent distribution of resources could benefit the planet, consider this: on the same amount of land (1.5 square miles), either 375 pounds of beef can be cultivated or 37,000 pounds of nutrient-dense vegetables. By heavily subsidizing crops that are, for the most part, fed to livestock intended for consumption, the whole of humanity is adversely affected. The environmental implications are not to be overlooked either.
Considering the United States entered into a climate change agreement with Paris in 2015, the subsidizing of crops primarily intended to be fed to livestock is environmentally irresponsible. Countless findings support this assertion; for example, the study “Global Diets Link Environmental Sustainability and Human Health,? which was published in the journal Nature, relays that by 2050, agricultural emissions will increase by 80%. This is important, as livestock is already responsible for producing 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, according to researcher Peter Scarborough.?Effects of climate change – largely driven by human activity, according to the Environmental Protection Agency?– include increased incidences of environmental disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, rising ocean levels as ice caps melt, and problems like food shortages. The easiest way to prevent climate change from worsening would be for the populace to wean itself off animal products. According to Pimentel?s Cornell analysis, animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than production of plant protein; at the same time, animal protein is only 1.4 times more nutritious for humans than the comparable amount of plant protein. Not only is it possible to obtain all essential nutrients from plant foods, it?s better for the environment. Scarborough concluded that those who omit all animal products from their diets (including dairy, eggs, and meat) are able to save 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent, and one animal?s life each day. By making the more ethical and environmentally-sound decision to eschew animal products, the environment would greatly benefit. In fact, scientific support for this declaration doesn?t end there.
According to ecologist Pimentel of Cornell University, livestock are directly or indirectly responsible for much of the soil erosion in the United States. Soil loss averages 13 tons per hectare per year?and may exceed 100 tons on severely overgrazed pastures. In result, 54 percent of U.S. pasture is being overgrazed. Furthermore, animal agriculture is a leading consumer of water resources in the United States and a concern because water shortages are already affecting the populace as a whole. Pimentel observed that grass-fed beef production requires 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of food and broiler chicken takes 3,500 liters of water for one kilogram of meat. In comparison, soybean production uses 2,000 liters for one kilogram of food produced; rice needs 1,912, wheat takes 900, and potatoes need 500 liters. The researcher elaborates:
?Water shortages already are severe in the Western and Southern United States and the situation is quickly becoming worse because of a rapidly growing U.S. population that requires more water for all of its needs, especially agriculture.”?
It is arguable that by decreasing humanity?s reliance on animal-based products and foods, many factors of American society will benefit.
From a health perspective, present agricultural subsidies do not support a thriving populace. When small and large-scale farmers grow large amounts of corn, soy, and wheat, the crops? prices plummet. In result, packaged food companies and fast food establishments utilize the cheap staples in various ways –? mainly as High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), hydrogenated fats, and corn-fed meats, all which contribute to various forms of illness. According to the study, ?Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure,? which was published in the Journal PLOS, excess sugar consumption causes obesity as well as type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, kidney disease, and cancer. There is a notable connection between rates of obesity and the sickest people on the planet, as well. A United Health Foundations study found that nine of the ten least healthy states in the U.S. have nine of the ten worst obesity rates. Whereas obesity used to be considered a disease of affluence, it is now largely correlated with low-income households who rely on cheap, refined products and fast foods, which contain a plethora of ingredients sourced from subsidized crops. At the time of purchasing ?economical? staples – low-nutrient, full of dyes and preservatives, and high in fat and sugar – individuals might believe they are stretching their dollars; however, the health complications that arise from a diet rich in animal products, refined sugars, and low-quality fillers are anything but cheap. As was mentioned earlier, the United States spends more than $3 trillion on healthcare each year. Not only could mass amounts of suffering and many deaths be prevented by revising the agricultural subsidies program and ensuring all citizens have abundant access to nutrient-dense, fiber-rich, and satiating plant-based foods, the economy would undoubtedly benefit as healthcare costs decline.
By 2050, the world?s population is expected to reach 9.6 billion. In result, production of high-quality, nutrient dense food needs to increase by 70%. The only technology, at present, capable of making this requirement a reality are vertical farms. Vertical farming experts estimate that a 30-story farm could feed 50,000 people a 2,000 calorie per day diet for an entire year.?Traditional farming presently suffers from a 50% failure rate due to unpredictable weather patterns, including droughts and flooding, plant diseases, and insect infestations, but indoor greenhouses and vertical farms use a controlled environment to cultivate crops organically. When hydroponic and aquaponic (raising fish and plants symbiotically) techniques are utilized, water waste is decreased and the amount of time required to grow crops shrinks. A few obstacles stand in the way of this vision being realized, however, mainly the high start-up costs, energy infrastructure, and the limited amounts of crops that can be grown hydroponically. If taxpayers? money were utilized more intelligently, on the other hand, the problem would cease to exist in a short period of time. At present, only one-tenth of one percent of every dollar a taxpayer puts into subsidizing and promoting foods through the Department of Agriculture goes to fruits and vegetables. One might surmise that if the populace needs to increase their intake of life-promoting plant-based foods but fails to do so because of high costs, reform can – and should – be made in this department.
In addition to taxpayers? money needing to be utilized more intelligently, another obstacle to consider is the fact that powerful key players in the meat, dairy, and biotech industries presently head government organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For example, Jack Watson was the former chief of staff to the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, and is now a staff lawyer with Monsanto Corporation (the biotech corporation responsible for Agent Orange and glyphosate, a neurotoxin in weed-killers).?Additionally, Michael Phillips, who held a position on the National Academy of Science Board on Agriculture, is now the head of regulatory affairs for the Biotechnology Industry Organization that profits off of mono-crop cultivation (single crops, such as wheat, corn, and soy), according to Rich Murray of Rense. These individuals are but some who are part of the ?revolving door? between Monsanto, the FDA, and the EPA. Overcoming policy makers? personal agendas (which oftentimes stems from corporate greed) is its own hurdle. Because lobbyists and policymakers will be the ones who decide whether or not a reform of agricultural subsidies programs is granted, their influence is worth noting.
Although the United States of America is a great country for numerous reasons, the nation?s economy and the health of its citizens could greatly benefit from a revision of government-funded agricultural subsidies which were introduced in the 1920?s. The Freedom to Farm Act is now detrimental to small farmers who can?t keep up with large-scale farms, the populace?s health, and the environment as a whole. One solution might be to reroute taxpayers? dollars to invest in green technology and sustainable forms of growing food, such as vertical farms and hydroponic greenhouses. However, that change has to come from Washington, D.C. Nonetheless, an educated populace can urge for change, and such action is needed now more than ever because it is clear that the present system benefits the few rather than the many.
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