Thursday, October 14, 2010

Farm Subsidies or the PCRM are a Bunch of Lying Liars.

Drew over at How To Cook Like Your Grandmother has a great takedown of the supposed idea that a Big Mac is cheaper than a salad because beef is so heavily subsidized, a canard I've come across more than a few times. Here's a screen shot from this table at the Environmental Working Group:

Corn and wheat alone account for around 100 billion dollars, whereas livestock received a mere 3 percent of that in the same period. Is it any wonder HFCS is so ubiquitous?

Tell people to eat unhealthy food, use their tax money to subsidize the hell out of unhealthy food. And when everyone turns obese and diabetic go after Mickey D's. How's that working out so far?


  1. idiocy indeed. How is it that people who make the claims (like beef subsidies are the root of all junk food) are able to look themselves in the mirror with no shame for what they are foisting upon the public?

  2. There's a good point hidden under the lying: The reason beef isn't nearly as good for us as it should be is that they feed it corn instead of grass. So yes, corn subsidies are indirectly going to beef. (And ethanol, but that's a whole other rant.) It still doesn't come out to the numbers the PCRM reports, but it is surprisingly big.

  3. I think they feel we should all stop consuming (slightly) subsidized beef and eat lots more subsidized corn, soy, rice (fried in subsidized corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, etc).

    My favorite is tobacco, no. 14. Subsidize the hell out of it, then sin tax it at the counter. Brilliant! And now there's talk of doing the same thing with HFCS . . .

  4. oh that's right, I should have mentioned that. Subsidize corn then tax corn syrup.

    Here's an idea: Drop the subsidies.

    No, really what they should do is go back to how it was before Nixon had Earl Butz change agricultural policy.

  5. I don't really agree with Pollan's position.

    The rules of classical economics just don’t seem to operate very well on the farm. When prices fall, for example, it would make sense for farmers to cut back on production, shrinking the supply of food to drive up its price.

    It's pretty clear Pollan has no clue about classical economics because that's exactly the way it says things should work. As the supply increases prices drop and quality improves, and less efficient producers drop out of the market. This is exactly what happened with coffee and wine for instance in the last 20 years. That's the way commodities operate, oversupply lowers price and tends to drive up quality.

    This is what we need to be seeing with food. Smaller farmers who can't compete on price are better off competing on quality. This is happening somewhat, but is hampered by the massive government distortion through subsidies, intervention and red tape. Fixed costs like red tape favor larger producers, economies of scale. Of course there also needs to be an awareness of what's healthy to eat, but I think there's a big groundswell in this area.

    I don't agree with Pollan's underlying assumption that people are fat and unhealthy because food is too abundant (because it is subsidized). They are fat and unhealthy because they've been following the food pyramid, not to mention eating low quality food like corn-fed beef, HFCS laden drinks and way too much PUFA. Commodities have come down in general, subsidized or not. If coffee gets cheaper I buy better quality coffee, I don't start drinking 50 cups a day. If bread dropped to 1 cent a loaf, I wouldn't start eating it like a maniac. So I don't believe the answer is to return to New Deal type price fixing intervention but to stop intervening altogether.