National Geographic Wrong on Farm Bill


It’s important that we learn about hunger to better prevent it. Learning about the connection between the farm bill and cheap junk food is an important part of this.

Unfortunately, this article gives a false analysis, claiming that subsidies cause cheap farm prices. It suggests that subsidies should be taken away from farmers raising crops like corn and soybeans, (i.e. used in junk food,) to stop “support” of them and to raise prices there, and the money should then go to encourage greater production of fruits and vegetables, to “support” them and to lower the prices for them. Or it should go to fund food subsidies, like SNAP (food stamps).

Subsidies do not cause the cheap prices, (and no valid evidence proving that they do is presented, only correlations). There are four kinds of proof showing why the claim is false, and/or showing what does cause the cheap prices: 1. historical data, which often shows zero correlation; 2. data on price inelasticity, (this is the economic cause, fixed politically by the New Deal programs, which were reduced, 1953-1995 and then ended in 1996); 3. econometric studies; 4. evidence from other countries. (see my video, linked below)

Corn and soybeans have not been “supported” by the farm bill, as can be seen from net results. Corn is the biggest farm bill loser, when subsidies are combined with reductions in the value of corn production, (from lower prices in the markets,) are added to the equation. The net result is that corn and other farmers subsidize the food of others (not shown more than others subsidize them. That’s true using traditional standards of fair prices, (farmer net subsidization of food below fair standards,) and it has often been true below zero (farmer net subsidization of food below full costs of production).

The farm bill caused these reductions by lowering and and eliminating minimum Price Floor programs. The problem is the absence of these programs, not the presence of subsidies.

These huge reductions then explain a variety of economic hardships in Iowa and other farming states. The lack of support for corn and other major crops is seen in the fact that most farmers have gone out of business as the farm program was increasingly designed to lower farm prices, (since 1953).

Other claims in the article are also false. The corn (also feedgrain and wheat) subsidies which are at issue started in 1961, not 1920. (Rice subsidies started in 1977.) Soybean subsidies started in 1998. The farm value of fruits and vegetables has gone down a lot, not up, over the years, (but it has not gone down as much as have corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton). Fruits and vegetables have fared slightly better than corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans, and rice, even when subsidies are added in.

Farmers produce most of these crops, not “large agricultural companies and cooperatives,” as is claimed in the article.

The original (nonsubsidy) farm programs which lie behind these questions, began in the 1930s. Their purpose was to address long term economic conditions, specifically, the failure of ‘free’ markets to self correct, which had resulted in low farm prices for 60 years prior to the Great Depression, and which we’ve seen ever since, on into the 21st century, with few exceptions.

The appropriate farm programs to address fruit and vegetable supplies and prices are Market Order programs, not subsidies.

“At heart,” then, this is a problem, not only of poverty from low “wages,” but also of poverty from low farm prices, our rising “rural ghetto”.

In the end, the false analysis in “The New Face of Hunger” points toward a reversed farm bill advocacy, where well meaning advocates are taught to advocate for policies and programs that cause the very cheap farm prices that they oppose. This is a strategy of being divided and conquered, by “robbing,” for example, corn farmer-victim Peter to pay hunger-victim Pauline, with misguided strategies for fruit/vegetable farmer-victims.

Most of these points are explained in my video, which includes data charts that correct a number of the misunderstandings identified above.  Here is the video:  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQkeDza3bM0&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767&index=1).


The synopsis above is a summary of the longer article I’m writing.  It briefly explains my list of concerns.

National Geographic’s photo essay, “The New Face of Hunger,” (by Tracie McMillan, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/hunger/) covers a topic which should deeply concern us all.  It’s great that National Geographic is covering this topic of hunger.  Beyond that they’re relating hunger to the farmer side of the farm bill, to our cheap food policies and programs.  That’s also very important.

Unfortunately, like almost everyone else, National Geographic is wrong about the second part of the equation.  They’re wrong about what has been happening in the farm bill.  That then leads to false conclusions where they blame the victims instead of the exploiters, with themselves falling victim to the divide and conquer strategy of corporate agribusiness.  That strategy, a brilliant public relations coup, is rooted in the myth of farm subsidies, a myth which has gone viral across most of the progressive and conservative sectors of the farm and food movement of today, and all across mainstream media.


Online, National Geographic’s presentation begins with the question:  “Why are people malnourished in the richest country on earth?”  Descriptions of that hunger, stories illustrating it, and statics related to it are then presented.  I have no argument with those sections.

Scrolling down we come to another sort of question, a “cruel irony.”  Basically, they’re asking why people are hungry in farming states, in Iowa, for example, one of our most amazing farming states.  That’s another great question, and one that we asked during the 1980s, when we increasing numbers of farmers signed up for food stamps, sometimes with help trained volunteers and the “Farmer-Food Stamp Handbook.”




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