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Farm bill: making America fat and polluted, one subsidy at a time

Let's support sustainable farming, instead.

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At a time of soaring food prices, America's grocery bill is about to balloon. Congress is staggering toward completion of a nearly $300 billion farm bill that upholds subsidies for big farmers and food corporations – undermining vital efforts to make our food supply more healthful and sustainable, both environmentally and economically.

It's time to overhaul the government's approach to food and farming.

If the current measure passes (as it's slated to this Friday) Americans will shell out billions of dollars for farm subsidies that wreak havoc on our land and diets. These payments irresponsibly promote the consumption of cheap fatty foods, the depletion of soil and air through overuse of pesticides, and destructive farming practices.

Like farm bills past, this one also advances the removal of small farms, eroding the spirit and finances of rural communities across the US.

There is funding for conservation and nutrition programs, even allotments for innovative community food security projects that expand markets for small farmers while making food accessible to poor inner-city residents. But the subsidies for agribusiness – sometimes exceeding $15 billion a year – deepen the very problems these programs seek to remedy.

The core issue lies in the Commodity Title, which subsidizes large growers' production of corn, wheat, and other raw ingredients used in everything from food sweeteners to livestock feed to auto fuel. Supporting farmers to produce basic foodstuffs is a laudable policy, but today's subsidy system instead props up unsustainable growing practices and undermines the nation's health and its farming and food future.

Consider that 75 percent of subsidies go to a handful of commodities (mostly wheat, corn, and oilseeds) used as food additives, making highly processed junk food cheap – while fruits and vegetables and whole foods currently get no aid. Nearly 70 percent of farm subsidies go to the top 10 percent of the country's biggest growers – while America loses one farm every half an hour.

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