An interactive map developed by the Environmental Working Group shows where more than 630 U.S. newspapers have published editorials since 2007 demanding meaningful reform of the federal farm bill. Nearly 80 new articles have now been added to EWG's interactive map.
Few issues trigger as much editorial page criticism of Congress, whose skewed farm bill priorities channel hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in farm and crop insurance subsidies to the largest and most successful farming operations in the country, while programs that protect the environment and feed the hungry go begging.
To view All Over the Map, click here.
The newly added editorials, published between June 2012 and June 2013, call for significant reform to current food and farm policies to benefit taxpayers, hungry children, family farmers and the environment. At a time when the farming sector is enjoying record profits, it is impossible to justify expensive and generous subsidies to profitable farm enterprises, insurance companies and their agents.
The newspapers' clamor for change reflects the public's desire for a very different farm bill than the one before the House of Representatives, which would swell crop insurance subsidies to a total of nearly $100 billion over the next decade. The House bill would increase subsidies by allowing farmers to buy even more insurance and by increasing prices guarantees for certain crops. These new subsidies would further tilt the playing field in favor of the largest agribusinesses and create new incentives for farmers to plow up more and more wetlands and prairie.
Unlimited crop insurance subsidies already cost taxpayers $9 billion a year. While some farms collect more than $1 million apiece in premium support every year, the bottom 80 percent of collect only about $5,000 each. And in contrast to traditional farm subsidies, taxpayers don't get to know who's benefiting from crop insurance subsidies – even though some are members of Congress.
The common themes that ring out from these editorials are that the 2013 farm bill should cut direct payments, which both bills would do, and reduce crop insurance subsidies. Overwhelmingly, the newspapers urge lawmakers to use the savings to protect programs that provide food assistance to needy children and environmental protections for soil, water and wildlife, not to lavish new subsidies and a new income support program on farmers already enjoying record profits.
As the Chicago Tribune puts it:
The [Senate farm] bill perpetuates the vast government subsidies for crop insurance. The government will continue to pay more than half the cost of the insurance. Farmers get subsidized and get a perverse financial incentive to take excessive risks without having to worry if their crops fail. Taxpayers get gouged.
The Washington Post writes:
U.S. farmers are wealthy enough to take care of themselves and have been for many years. There's no argument – beyond the spurious specter of food shortages – for propping them up with taxpayer money. The sooner Congress starts making policy with those truths in mind, the better.
A New York Times editorial says:
Some lawmakers complain that parts of the current law providing for enhanced food stamp benefits could be manipulated by states. But the program has very little fraud and, in any case, there is no justification for reducing benefits over all. Allowing cuts in food stamps is the wrong position fiscally and morally, and a terrible strategy for beginning negotiations with the House.
The industrial agriculture lobby tries to dismiss the considerable editorial scorn as coming from "coastal elites," but the facts show that some of the loudest calls for reform come from farm country papers.
As the Des Moines Register states:
Crop insurance should not be so lucrative that farmers are encouraged to take unnecessary risks and to put marginal lands into production. Congress should also tie eligibility for crop insurance to a requirement that farmers comply with soil and water conservation regulations. And it goes without saying that Congress should not cut federal funding that helps pay for conservation programs that help farmers who want to do the right thing to protect water quality and preserve topsoil for future generations.
And the Kansas City Star writes:
Unfortunately, the small family farmers in Missouri and Kansas who actually work their land and have helped feed city folks here and abroad again come up short, as the massive bill that comes up for renewal every five years has little to do with family farming and much to do with government excess and waste.
A bipartisan group of House members is working to improve the legislation with amendments to subject insurance subsidies to means testing, limit subsidies to $50,000 per farmer, end windfall profits for corporations and improve transparency. Passing those amendments would be a sign that lawmakers are listening and doing what taxpayers want – in the interest of the neediest Americans, family farmers and the environment.