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Obama Stands Firm on Push for Farm Program Reform

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, May 7, 2009

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2009 – Making good on his promise to find savings in the federal budget, president Obama announced several proposed cuts today that could help reform a broken farm subsidy system. The most promising proposal centers on a total payment limit of $250,000 per person, down from the current $750,000 per person and $1.5 million per farm couple limit set in the 2008 farm bill.

Current farm programs represent gross inequity in payment distribution. Nearly 90% of all federal farm payments go to only five favored crops that include corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, and rice, while fresh fruits, vegetables and organic agriculture receive little.

Worse yet, the vast majority of taxpayer support directed at the biggest operations and wealthiest landowners. EWG data shows that the largest 10% of farms receive almost 70% of total farm payments. Often, the large plantation scale operations use the increased capitol to outbid smaller family farmers for land.

“We’re encouraged that bluster from the agribusiness as usual subsidy lobby has not deterred the president in his efforts to find meaningful savings and cut waste and abuse. Millionaires, wealthy landowners and large profitable farm operations do not need taxpayer funded support, while thousands of struggling family farmers do,” said Craig Cox, Environmental Working Group Midwest Vice-President.

There is also broad public sentiment that these programs are rife with waste and abuse and in desperate need of reform. A new poll conducted by the World Public Opinion, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 61% of polled Americans oppose farm subsidies to large operations while 77% support subsidies to small farmers of under 500 acres. In the last farm bill debate, nearly 500 editorials from almost every daily newspaper in the country advocated for reform.

President Obama also included several positive proposals that relate to agriculture programs, including fully funding a nutrition program for Women Infants and Children (WIC), and $1 billion annually for childhood nutrition reauthorization. Additionally, the president is making resolving the longstanding issue of discrimination against black farmers by the US Department of Agriculture a priority.

“President Obama realizes that American families are getting hit hard by the current economic recession, and often our nutrition and food stamp programs are the last lines of defense for hungry children. We applaud his efforts to increase nutrition funding,” Cox added.

"President Obama's budget proposal is an important step in the process of redressing decades of discrimination against black farmers on the part of USDA. EWG will be closely monitoring the implementation of this proposal by the administration and Congress to ensure that discrimination claims with merit will be dealt with fairly--and immediately,” Cox said.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The group’s farm subsidy database and related reports can be found at www.mulchblog.com.

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