Travis Kelley

The recurring Farm Bill that Congress has been wrangling over lately has long been viewed as a mess by most disinterested observers. The farm assistance program was begun during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, as an emergency measure to save devastated family farmers who then supplied most of the nation’s food; it was never meant to be permanent.

But permanent it has become, with a few hogzillas addicted to fattening at the trough. The Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) reports that since 1995, fully 75-percent of farm subsidies have gone to the top 3.8 percent — agricultural giants like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Monsanto, who are, of course, in dire need of funds to patch all those creaky shacks on the great plains and replace all those mule teams killed by tornados and dust storms. Sixty-two percent of farmers got diddly-squat.

But I think the big boys are up on their boots now, and should be able to fend for themselves. They’re really in no danger of having to load up the hillbilly wagon and trudge westward to California. And do we really need to hand them taxpayer money to produce high fructose corn syrup, the prime ingredient in junk food and soft drinks mostly responsible for an of epidemic of costly obesity and diabetes in this country? We are the fattest nation on Earth, but have gaining company; wherever the American diet, heavy on processed fast food, is introduced, the waistlines balloon and diabetes soars.

The federal government gives lip service to a healthier diet, but the subsidies reflect other priorities — mainly keeping the corporate giants and other well-heeled addicts happy. Jon Bon Jovi, Jimmy Carter, Ted Turner, Mark Rockefeller and 1500 residents of New York City have received subsidies, including 374 on New York’s ritzy Upper East Side. Some of these sodbusters have invested in farm land, and simply get paid to never plant a thing. They wouldn’t know a plow from a parking meter.

The pay-to-not-plant subsidies were intended to keep prices stably high during crises, so essential farmers wouldn’t go under. They now serve to inflate prices so perfectly stable corporations can net record profits, unperturbed by market forces. The crop insurance subsidies are also riddled with fraud, given to large corporations that can well afford their own insurance.

The need for reform is widely recognized, but the farming industry is as robustly defensive to change as Wall Street, where the derivative virus is still running amok. Monsanto and Goldman Sachs send their muscle to D.C. ($200 million in lobbying and campaign contributions from the agricorps in 2008), and the average congress critter cringes in retreat.

In the original House bill, there was an amendment to cap farm and subsidy size — any company making over $250,000 in profits would have been ineligible for assistance. At that level, they should be able to weather the vicissitudes of the free market without welfare. But the amendment failed by a few votes, while Republicans fought to purge food stamps from the bill (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). That program, too, has been victimized by fraudsters, but it should be cleaned up, not abolished. I really don’t want desperately hungry people on the prowl, resorting to cannibalism.

Like so many other lip-servicers in Washington, the supposed fiscal conservatives (including our own Scott Tipton) operate in a perverse way — shovel taxpayer money to artificially inflate the costs of food for people barely making it, then cut off assistance to help them afford it. You’re a real Scrooge, Mr. Tipton.

There are ideal solutions to this mess, but of course they have as much chance of passing as asparagus does of sprouting in the Sahara: The food stamps should come with a prohibited purchase list, including Big Gulp colas and Little Debbie donuts. And anyone receiving a farm subsidy must show up in person to get it, wearing a John Deere cap, sweaty overalls and boots reeking of manure. To weed out talented impersonators, he must also recite Country & Western’s top 10 hits over the last year. This makes a lot of sense — probably too much sense for Washington. I fear our legacy is going to be:

We lost Detroit. But saved the Twinkie.

“We are the fattest nation on Earth, but have gaining company; wherever the American diet, heavy on processed fast food, is introduced, the waistlines balloon and diabetes soars.”