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Naming (1.5 Million) Names

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New Web Site Names (1.5 million) Names Of Farm Subsidy Claimants


Disclosure of Unpublished USDA Data Bolsters Reformers As Congress Begins Debate On Next Farm Law

Washington, June 12 — For decades, American taxpayers have provided tens of billions of dollars in federal farm subsidies to some of the largest and wealthiest farm businesses in the nation. But thousands of people who benefited from the subsidy flow were shielded from public view behind layers of partnerships, joint ventures, limited liability corporations, cooperatives, and other business structures that obscured their personal subsidy claims.

Not anymore.

A new Web site, developed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) from millions of previously unpublished USDA subsidy records and released today, provides nearly full disclosure of federal farm subsidy beneficiaries for the first time. The disclosures include individuals, sometimes numbering in the dozens, whose subsidy benefits pass through one or more plantation-scale farm businesses that produce vast quantities of subsidized cotton, rice and other crops. Many of those businesses receive millions in USDA crop subsidies each year, and according to the new USDA data, pass six-figure benefits through to many people. In many cases, these individuals have not previously had subsidy benefits attributed to them by name.

"While two-thirds of U.S. farmers receive no farm subsidy payments, American taxpayers have been writing farm subsidy checks to wealthy absentee land owners, state prison systems, universities, public corporations, and very large, well-heeled farm business operations without the government so much as asking the beneficiaries if they need our money," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. "Even if you live smack in the middle of a big city, type in a ZIP code and you'll find farm subsidy recipients. Surely we can come up with a smarter investment portfolio for agriculture and rural America than the list of 1.5 million subsidy beneficiaries we are publishing today," Cook said. "America's farm subsidy system is broken. It's time for change."

The new data shows that farm program benefits are highly concentrated in the hands of a small minority of subsidized individuals and operations, with the top 1% of beneficiaries claiming 17 percent of the crop subsidy benefits between 2003 and 2005. Their average benefit was $377,484 per person for the 3 program years or over $125,000 apiece annually. As a point of reference, the average adjusted gross income within the ZIP codes of those same top recipients was $45,853 in 2004 (the latest year for with IRS provides data from tax returns by ZIP code).

"The Environmental Working Group's database clearly shows current inequities and why Congress must broadly reform the farm bill," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. "On June 12, hundreds of Bread for the World members — religious people from across the United States — will visit congressional offices to share this same message with their elected representatives. We want a farm bill that allocates resources fairly. The farm bill needs to support a broad range of U.S. farmers without harming farmers in developing countries, enable our country's low-income people to buy nutritious food, and strengthen rural communities."

"This data clearly exposes the hypocrisy of our commodity programs, showing how large amounts of taxpayer dollars are given out to a few, while others — here and abroad — are struggling," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. "The numbers on cotton are particularly astounding, highlighting the unfairness faced by American and African farmers alike. But with transparency comes accountability, and it's time for our legislators to fix this broken system."

"This is the one thing that has corporate agribusiness shaking in their boots. Now, with the click of a mouse, taxpayers can see behind the farm subsidy curtain. This database shows that Ma and Pa farmer are getting peanuts from today's subsidy system. While corporate agriculture is living high on the hog," said Ryan Alexander, President of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"Most farmers are turned away when they offer to share the cost of clean water and wildlife habitat because of our misplaced spending priorities. The next farm bill should reward, nor reject, farmers when they take steps to help the environment. Rewarding stewardship would help many more farmers and regions get a fair share of farm spending," said Scott Faber, Director of Environmental Defense's Healthy Food, Healthy Farms Campaign.

The entry point for the new Farm Policy Analysis is www.mulchblog.com. This site will go 'live' at 12:00 PM EST on June 12th.

In addition, the Farm Policy Analysis Database incorporates several methods of interpreting the new data:

  • Detailed analysis of payment traffic between entities and individuals called 'Pass-Throughs.'
  • Mean Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) data for zip codes of entities and recipients. The EWG obtained aggregate data from the Internal Revenue Service and matched mean AGI in each zip code to the zip code(s) of subsidized farm businesses and beneficiaries.
  • The Farm Policy Analysis Database is the first in a series of 2007 farm policy reports to be released by EWG this summer, as Congress struggles to reauthorize the next federal "farm bill." Forthcoming analyses from EWG will examine farm subsidy payments to black farmers; the beneficiaries of billions of dollars of controversial "commodity certificate" farm subsidies; and the near-total neglect in past farm bills of the needs of tens of thousands of fruit and vegetable growers in California and Florida, and farmers and ranchers who have sought USDA conservation assistance but been turned away for lack of funds.

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