The $20 Billion Handout That’s Destroying the Environment

Posted by on February 24, 2017 in Environment, Farming with 10 Comments
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Richard Conniff | Takepart

OregonAgriculture

How to reform agricultural subsidies harming wildlife and polluting the planet.

Agricultural subsidies are, let’s face it, incredibly complicated and boring, and that’s the eternal problem with changing them: It’s just too hard to get the public to care even about a system that is, on its face, bizarre, destructive, and politically corrupt. It’s especially hard to care when the big losers are wildlife and the environment.


Well, OK, taxpayers lose, too. In the United States, agribusiness takes $20 billion worth of subsidies out of our pockets every year. Hardly any of that supports the production of healthier foods or benefits wildlife, the environment, or the public. But most of us would rather scrub toilets or run marathons than think about it.  Meanwhile, agribusiness spent $138 million on lobbying in 2012, and another $90 million on federal campaign contributions to keep those handouts just the way they are.

And yet, it’s worth thinking hard about how to design a farm subsidy program that benefits wildlife, the public, and farmers alike. It’s worth it because—and forgive me for being the buzzkill on a day when you would rather be happily cleaning toilets—the survival of life on Earth depends on it.

Related Articles: Yes, We Can Achieve Regenerative Agriculture

Check out this 2010 TED talk by ecologist Jon Foley for the scary details. Or let me summarize: It’s bad enough that agriculture is already the single largest consumer of land and water, the biggest polluter of our waterways with suffocating quantities of nitrogen and phosphorous, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, the thirstiest consumer of water, and the biggest driver of species extinctions and biodiversity loss on Earth. But here’s the really scary part: Farm output needs to double in this century as the human population grows to 11 billion people.

Where to begin the business of reforming subsidies to make our agricultural sector a little less insane? A new article in the journal PLOS Biology casts a skeptical eye on even the current limited incentives aimed at making agriculture less destructive. “My big beef,” said Andrew J. Tanentzap, the lead author and an ecosystems specialist at the University of Cambridge, ”is that these European agri-environment schemes cost billions every year and nobody knows whether they work.”

A typical problem is that incentive schemes reward farmers for taking actions rather than producing results. In one absurd case, the European Union was trying to encourage recovery of certain bird species by offering a subsidy for every nesting box farmers put up on their land. “So this farmer in Hungary nailed a nesting box on every tree,” said Tanentzap. “There were maybe 500 trees in this stand, where one or two nesting boxes would have been enough. That really crystallizes the perversity of the whole thing. You’re paying people for things that have no benefit whatever.”

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Another EU program paid farmers to take land out production and set it aside for wildlife. But because “no environmental outcome was explicitly targeted,” Tanentzap and his coauthors write, farmers tended to retire their worst land, “limiting environmental benefits.” (The U.S. counterpart, the Conservation Reserve Program, avoids this mistake, specifically rewarding farmers to set aside riparian buffers, wildlife habitat buffers, and other environmentally sensitive land. But Congress last year drastically scaled back the program—meanwhile maintaining federal ethanol subsidies, which have led many farmers to plant border-to-border corn on former CRP land.)

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  1. 400132850171965@facebook.com' Sampi.author says:

    We are just working for human apatite by neglecting the life of others

  2. 10204697065538698@facebook.com' Kathy Bringman says:

    Subsidize Family farming, not agribusiness.

  3. 10206469587436411@facebook.com' Brenda Nusbaum says:

    and your right- only a handful of us care enough to “walk the walk” by our actions.

  4. 176037582733406@facebook.com' Diamond Sabreé says:

    Nick Bromley

  5. 10153088310356641@facebook.com' Amanda Camille Ellingsen says:

    Great government we have ?

  6. 10153207928378175@facebook.com' John Bothwell says:

    WAKE UP PEOPLE AND READ HOW TO SAVE YOURSELVES AND HUMANITY. – Monsanto is a GMO Agricultural Chemical Seed Company. Monsanto made – Agent Orange, pcbs, dioxin, 1st synthetic fertilizer, saccharine, aspartame, nuclear – look up ‘Monsanto’s dirty dozen’ Now they are an ‘AgroChem Seed Co’ like the other big 5 – the 6 biggest seed co’s are the 6 biggest toxic chemical & GMO co’s – look up ‘Bayer IG Farbin’ on Wikipedia & see the evil root energy of these companies!

    Monsantos et al is and has been for decades lobbying humanity and their Governments for support in perpetuating the use of their bio-tec GMOs, chemicals and bio-technologies, stating this is the only way humanity will ultimately avoid starvation. On the other hand Monsantos agrees that 30+ % of food produced is wasted at the retail level. HUGE WASTE. If Monsantos really wants to help feed humanity, why not help cut food waste? So what if you would sell allot less GMO seeds and toxic chemicals that are ruining our health and environment. I suppose another BIG PROBLEM for you might be that would also impede your ultimate goal to take all seeds on earth (which are now in the FREE domain for anyone to grow using their own FREE WILL) and REPLACE them with YOUR OWN PROPRIETARY SEEDS and bio-technologies which you will sell to a ransomed humanity. Am I right, or am I right? Monsantos et al is and has been for decades lobbying humanity and their Governments for support in perpetuating the use of their bio-tec GMOs, chemicals and bio-technologies, stating this is the only way humanity will ultimately avoid starvation. On the other hand Monsantos agrees that 30+ % of food produced is wasted at the retail level. HUGE WASTE. If Monsantos really wants to help feed humanity, why not help cut food waste? We would feed more people easier wouldn’t we. So what if Monsantos would sell allot less GMO seeds and toxic chemicals that are ruining our health and environment anyway. Although I suppose another BIG PROBLEM for you might be that would also impede your ultimate goal to take all seeds on earth (which are now in the FREE domain for anyone to grow using their own FREE WILL) and REPLACE them with YOUR OWN PROPRIETARY SEEDS and bio-technologies which you will sell to a then RANSOMED HUMANITY. How is this anything other than PURE EVIL? VOTE WITH YOUR WALLETS TO KILL “THE DARK ACT” AND MONSANTOS.

  7. 963577753698751@facebook.com' Gia Cowan says:

    Just saw Cowspiracy lastnight. Great documentary ans highly recommended. From their site,

    ” Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.

    Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean “dead zones,” and virtually every other environmental ill. Yet it goes on, almost entirely unchallenged.

    As Andersen approaches leaders in the environmental movement, he increasingly uncovers what appears to be an intentional refusal to discuss the issue of animal agriculture, while industry whistleblowers and watchdogs warn him of the risks to his freedom and even his life if he dares to persist.

    As eye-opening as Blackfish and as inspiring as An Inconvenient Truth, this shocking yet humorous documentary reveals the absolutely devastating environmental impact large-scale factory farming has on our planet, and offers a path to global sustainability for a growing population.”

  8. 10206434966945822@facebook.com' Jeremy Hood-Daniel says:

    not only destroying the environment, but destroyi8ng the livelihoods of farmers in developing countries across the globe. How can one expect a country to develop if you frig up their own farming efforts with cheap imports?

  9. 834646763319879@facebook.com' Thomas Elliott says:

    Bettylou Freebush

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