B12 Solipsism

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Archive for the ‘USDA’ tag

Welfare for the Wealthy, Corn Cobs for the Poor

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Sprang from Shame and Pride
Sprang from Shame and Pride

As a follow up to Paul Krugman’s outrage re the Right’s push toward more food insecurity for citizens of America, Mark Bittman adds his own…

The critically important Farm Bill1 is impenetrably arcane, yet as it worms its way through Congress, Americans who care about justice, health or the environment can parse enough of it to become outraged.

The legislation costs around $100 billion annually, determining policies on matters that are strikingly diverse. Because it affects foreign trade and aid, agricultural and nutritional research, and much more, it has global implications.

The Farm Bill finances food stamps (officially SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the subsidies that allow industrial ag and monoculture — the “spray and pray” style of farming — to maintain their grip on the food “system.”

…The current versions of the Farm Bill in the Senate (as usual, not as horrible as the House) and the House (as usual, terrifying) could hardly be more frustrating. The House is proposing $20 billion in cuts to SNAP — equivalent, says Beckmann, to “almost half of all the charitable food assistance that food banks and food charities provide to people in need.2

(click here to continue reading Welfare for the Wealthy – NYTimes.com.)

Exposed and Juicy
Exposed and Juicy

Sadly, I doubt much will change, the Christian Taliban currently calling the shots in the Republican Party is too opposed to Christian principles as espoused by Christ: you know, ones about feeding the hungry, and caring for the sick. In stark contrast to the teachings of Christ, we instead have evil hypocrites like Congressman Stephen Fincher:

This pits the ability of poor people to eat — not well, but sort of enough — against the production of agricultural commodities. That would be a difficult choice if the subsidies were going to farmers who could be crushed by failure, but in reality most direct payments go to those who need them least.

Among them is Congressman Stephen Fincher, Republican of Tennessee, who justifies SNAP cuts by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

Even if this quote were not taken out of context — whoever wrote 2 Thessalonians was chastising not the poor but those who’d stopped working in anticipation of the second coming — Fincher ignores the fact that Congress is a secular body that supposedly doesn’t base policy on an ancient religious text that contradicts itself more often than not. Not that one needs to break a sweat countering his “argument,” but 45 percent of food stamp recipients are children, and in 2010, the U.S.D.A. reported that as many as 41 percent are working poor.

This would be just another amusing/depressing example of an elected official ignoring a huge part of his constituency (about one in seven Americans rely on food stamps, though it’s one in five in Tennessee, the second highest rate in the South), were not Fincher himself a hypocrite.

For the God-fearing Fincher is one of the largest recipients of U.S.D.A. farm subsidies in Tennessee history; he raked in $3.48 million in taxpayer cash from 1999 to 2012, $70,574 last year alone. The average SNAP recipient in Tennessee gets $132.20 in food aid a month; Fincher received $193 a day. (You can eat pretty well on that.) [4]

Fincher is not alone in disgrace, even among his Congressional colleagues, but he makes a lovely poster boy for a policy that steals taxpayer money from the poor and so-called middle class to pay the rich, while propping up a form of agriculture that’s unsustainable and poisonous.

If there were a god, publicly pious devils like Rep. Fincher would be zapped by lightning, or at least be forced to give back the $3,483,824 he’s collected from the federal government. Instead, they continue to get corporate welfare, and cash from lobbyists to continue the scheme, and the ability to set our national policy. In Rep. Fincher’s world, those children who rely upon food stamps should go to work, preferably in a coal mine or as chimney sweeps.

Dance of the Devil Corn
Dance of the Devil Corn

From USA Today last year:

Who gets food stamps?

The most recent Department of Agriculture report on the general characteristics of the SNAP program’s beneficiaries says that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010:

••47% of beneficiaries were children under age 18.

••8% were age 60 or older.

••41% lived in a household with earnings from a job — the so-called “working poor.”

••The average household received a monthly benefit of $287.

••36% were white (non-Hispanic), 22% were African American (non-Hispanic) and 10% were Hispanic.

Update, Feb. 5: USDA data understate these figures, however, because participants are not required to state their race or ethnic background. As a result, 18.9% are listed as “race unknown.” A more accurate estimate of the racial and ethnic composition of food-stamp recipients can be drawn from U.S. Census data, based on a sample of households surveyed each year in the American Community Survey.

For 2010, Census data show the following for households that reported getting food stamp assistance during the year:

•49% were white (non-Hispanic); 26% were black or African American; and 20% were Hispanic (of any race).

Note that Census data somewhat understate the total number of persons receiving food stamps, compared with the more accurate head count from USDA, which is based on actual benefit payments. Survey participants may be reluctant to state that they have received public assistance during the year. So the Census figures on race and ethnic background can’t be guaranteed to be completely accurate. But we judge the Census figures to be a better approximation of reality regarding race and ethnic background than USDA figures.

(click here to continue reading Fact check: Gingrich’s faulty food-stamp claim – USATODAY.com.)

and then there’s this little bit of trickery:

Knowing that direct subsidy payments are under the gun, our clever and cynical representatives are offering a bait-and-switch policy that will make things worse, and largely replace subsidy payments with an enhanced form of crop insurance — paid for by us, of course — which will further reduce risks for commodity farmers. As Craig Cox explained, “The proposed crop insurance would allow — no, encourage — big farmers to plant corn on hillsides, in flood-threatened areas, even in drought-stricken areas, with subsidized premiums and deductibles, and see a big payout if” — should we say “when”? — “the crop fails or is damaged.”

You should get such a deal on insurance: the premiums and deductibles are subsidized and there’s no limit to what can be paid, so bigger farms and bigger risks reap bigger rewards in the event of failure, even if that was a failure of judgment.

Footnotes:
  1. This year going by the fun names of “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act” (House version) and “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act” (Senate). Note that the titles tell us what matters to each of these bodies, and that food doesn’t cut it in the House. []
  2. “People in need,” by the way, outnumber food stamp recipients, since not everyone eligible for food stamps signs up. So really it’s a bit worse than it sounds, and it sounds bad enough. []

Written by Seth Anderson

June 6th, 2013 at 9:28 am

USDA Organic inspectors lame excuses

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Elections do matter, part the 8497th. Under the Bush administration, topics like food safety and compliance with organic regulations were deemed not important, and thus not enforced. Listen to some of these excuses the USDA made for why they couldn’t bother to do their jobs:

Peppers and Hues

Under normal circumstances, the program gives preliminary accreditation to certifying agents based on a review of paperwork they submit. That allows them to begin certifying and inspecting organic producers and processors. But the program is supposed to follow up with a site visit to inspect a certifier’s operations before making accreditation permanent.

In five cases, the inspector general found, officials failed to make the follow-up visits, allowing the certifiers to operate for as long as seven years with only preliminary accreditation.

Officials at the program said that in three cases, involving certifiers operating in Bolivia, Israel and Turkey, they did not send staff members to make the inspections because the State Department had issued travel warnings about potentially dangerous conditions in those countries.

In two other cases, involving certifying agents in Australia and Canada, officials said that scheduling problems blocked them from arranging visits — in one instance for as long as five years.

[Click to continue reading U.S. to Ensure Spot Tests of Organic Foods – NYTimes.com]

A joke, in other words.

Theoretically, the USDA is going to change its mission, and actually figure out how to make sure organic items in the grocery store are what they say they are, but since the USDA’s mission has been to support agribusinesses for most of its tenure, I’m skeptical until I see some actual results.

The Department of Agriculture said on Friday that it would begin enforcing rules requiring the spot testing of organically grown foods for traces of pesticides, after an auditor exposed major gaps in federal oversight of the organic food industry.

Spot testing is required by a 1990 law that established the basis for national organic standards, but in a report released on Thursday by the office of Phyllis K. Fong, the inspector general of agriculture, investigators wrote that regulators never made sure the testing was being carried out.

The report pointed to numerous shortcomings at the agriculture department’s National Organic Program, which regulates the industry, including poor oversight of some organic operations overseas and a lack of urgency in cracking down on marketers of bogus organic products.

Lemon Cucumbers

At least they are increasing the budget, a bit. In the federal budget, these still are afterthought numbers, less than the cost of one day in Iraq, but it is a step in the right direction at least. Perhaps the producers of organic products could contribute a fraction of their sales?

The organic program’s budget increased to $6.9 million for the current fiscal year, from $3.9 million the previous year, Mr. McEvoy said, while its staff is slated to nearly double, to 31 from 16. The Obama administration is seeking to increase the budget to $10 million in the next fiscal year and allow the program to expand to about 40 employees.

Sales of organic products reached $26 billion last year and, until the recession hit, had been growing by double-digit percentages each year.

$6,900,000 ÷ $26,000,000,000 = 0.02653846153846155%, give or take, and still seems like a pittance to me.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 20th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Food Firms Threaten Possible Sugar Shortage

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Sounds to me like there’s more to this story than simple shortages of sugar.

Margies Candies

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack, the big brands — including Kraft Foods Inc., General Mills Inc., Hershey Co. and Mars Inc. — bluntly raised the prospect of a severe shortage of sugar used in chocolate bars, breakfast cereal, cookies, chewing gum and thousands of other products.

The companies threatened to jack up consumer prices and lay off workers if the Agriculture Department doesn’t allow them to import more tariff-free sugar. Current import quotas limit the amount of tariff-free sugar the food companies can import in a given year, except from Mexico, suppressing supplies from major producers such as Brazil.

While agricultural economists scoff at the notion of an America bereft of sugar, the food companies warn in their letter to Mr. Vilsack that, without freer access to cheaper imported sugar, “consumers will pay higher prices, food manufacturing jobs will be at risk and trading patterns will be distorted.”

Officials of many food companies — several of which are enjoying rising profits this year despite the recession — declined to comment on how much they might raise prices if they don’t get their way in Washington.

[Click to continue reading Food Firms Warn of Sugar Shortage – WSJ.com]
[non-WSJ subscribers use this link]

The world’s biggest sugarcane producer, Brazil, is of course diverting much of its crop to make ethanol instead of sugar. But is it really such a horrible thing if sugar become expensive? Maybe food manufacturers will stop using so much of it in every damn thing they make? Ha.

Moto Watermelon Cucumber

U.S. sugar producers doubt whether any price savings would be passed along to consumers in any case: historically, just has helped the profits of food manufacturers:

Jack Roney, the alliance’s1 chief economist, said food companies probably wouldn’t pass along any savings to consumers from a widened import quota. But each one-cent drop in the price of sugar costs U.S. farmers about $160 million, he said.

“We take offense at any notion of reducing producer prices for sugar having any benefit for consumers, because historically we’ve never seen any pass-through of lower commodity prices of ingredients,” he said. “It really is a profit-increasing opportunity for user companies.”

Footnotes:
  1. American Sugar Alliance – a trade organization of sugar-beet and cane farmers []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 13th, 2009 at 7:48 am

Mad Cow Disease

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A few things being done on the war on meat-related terrorism:

a comic by R.J. Matson from a few years ago (click to embiggen)


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"Animal Pharm: One Man’s Struggle to Discover the Truth about Mad Cow Disease and Variant CJD" (Mark Purdey)

indeed


"Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual" (Michael Pollan)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 29th, 2006 at 4:57 pm

Posted in government,health

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