As 2011 concluded so too did the ethanol tax credit. With that hopeful news, it seemed an appropriate time to learn more about the multitude of government subsidies which still remain in place. “The Big Handout – How Goverment Subsidies and Corporate Welfare Corrupt the World We Live In and Wreak Havoc on Our Food Bills” by Thomas M. Kostigen offers us that information.

It provides a broad overview of agricultural subsidies, including corn, the most-subsidized agricultural commodity produced in the United States, and cotton, an extremely thirsty crop that’s even grown in the Arizona desert with subsidized Colorado River water. During my few visits to that state with its cool flag and scant rainfall, it’s always been weird to see cotton and cactus coexist in a place where cactus, not cotton, is clearly king.

While Mr. Kostigen admittedly considers himself a “raging liberal,” his partisan and nonpartisan sources are from across a broad spectrum, including the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Oxfam and the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. The Environmental Working Group provides an interesting farm subsidies calculator which allows one to focus on state data such as California and county-by-county data, including Sonoma County.

While handouts mostly bypass small farmers and ranchers, Big Ag corporations which include Cargill, ConAgra and Monsanto are enriched aplenty. Also included in his analysis of government subsidies are those still being provided to the oil and gas industry, with the biggest recipients being Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, among the largest corporations in the world.

Particularly disturbing is the assertion, supported by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, that our system of subsidies exacerbates poverty throughout the world, fostering conditions for terrorism to take hold. During 2012 Congress is scheduled to adopt its next multi-year farm bill within which billions of dollars in subsidies will be under consideration. Many challenges face us in the years ahead and our limited financial resources need to be used more wisely. Watch carefully how the 2012 farm bill works its way through the House of Representatives and Senate during an election year!


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