Tuesday, February 2, 2010

More on the Budget: Reducing Farm Subsidies

Even more coverage of the proposed budget and its food implications, in an article from the great blog over at Obama Foodorama. They provide a nice synopsis of some of the items not covered in our previous posts, including the planned reductions in farm subsidies.

Subsidies are enormously complicated, and I'm not in a position to say much about the specific proposed changes. What I will say is that while I understand that subsidies have historically been an important tool for supporting American farmers, they raise some questions that shouldn't be ignored. First, we need to ask whether the subsidy system as it exists is actually helping the American farmers who could most use that help: small family farms. Second, we need to consider the effect that subsidies can have on commodity prices. The reality is that subsidies artificially lower the price of goods like corn below natural market prices, and these artificially lower prices trickle down through the whole food system. Anything that has corn or corn products in it, or that has been fed corn, is artificially cheap in our supermarkets. This isn't to say we aren't paying for these items; we're just doing so in advance through our tax dollars, essentially all paying a deposit on these goods.

As someone who advocates as much free and informed choice as possible when it comes to food, I'm definitely wary of a system in which much of our food supply appears cheaper than it actually is, and in which we pay the difference on these products involuntarily out of our tax dollars.

Am I saying we should do away with subsidies? Like I said, I lack the expertise to confidently say anything of the sort. But I do think that subsidies can have some pretty anti-choice  implications, and that these merit consideration by voters and policy makers.

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