I am not a conspiracy theorist, having traded my tin-foil hat for a brief case, but I am a firm believer that there are many opportunists among us. So, while the governmental agencies and corporations perhaps never sat in a smoke-filled back room colluding about how to keep us sick and poor, each of these entities certainly takes advantage of opportunities that are presented by actions of the others, with the same result.
This post explores the link between two USDA initiatives – farm subsidies and nutrition guides – on the health of Americans, and how its policies and programs lead to greater direct and indirect costs for all of us.
What “Foods” Do We Subsidize? “An agricultural subsidy is a governmental subsidy paid to farmers and agribusinesses to supplement their income, manage the supply of agricultural commodities, and influence the cost and supply of such commodities.” – Wikipedia’s simple definition seemed as good as any for our purposes here. Besides, it’s nearly impossible to find the word on the USDA’s web site, which euphemistically refers to subsidies as “commodity programs” and “commodity price supports.” (Why the government should keep its nose out of the market and why real foodies should not be lured into seeking or supporting farm subsidies by promises of a piece of the action will be discussed in a later post.)
For our purposes here, what is important is that, through a series of farm bills over the years, the USDA subsidizes the production of several commodities. There are more problems with this whole scheme than can be meaningfully explored here, but a major problem with subsidies is the fact that, historically, much of the subsidy money is given to commercial farms that produce commodities like wheat, soy, and corn (not to mention tobacco!). Here’s how a recent farm bill divvied up subsidy monies:
The ”foods” on this list are some of the unhealthiest products imaginable, both when eaten directly and when ingested indirectly through the livestock that are fed it.
Corn. BigAg gives feed corn to animals that would rather eat anything BUT feed corn, such as cows that would rather eat grass and pigs that would rather root around on the pasture for all sorts of goodies. This has trickled down to smaller producers as well, making it more costly to produce – and, therefore, to purchase – healthy grass-fed beef and pastured pork. Clearly, by subsidizing livestock feed, meat from animals that are allowed to eat the unsubsidized real food they were designed to eat may seem more expensive by comparison. But is it really more expensive in the long run?
When all these misfed and mistreated feedlot animals are ultimately slaughtered, who eats their meat? People. This is a problem because these animals were not fed what they were designed to eat; thus, they are not in optimal health themselves. As Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness likes to say:
”You can’t get health from a sick animal!”
We feed subsidized corn to livestock to the detriment of our own health.
Wheat - another subsidized crop - is one of the least healthy “foods” on the planet (at least the version of it found in America today). Modern American wheat is gut-irritating, pro-inflammatory, insulin-spiking psedo-food that is rich in ANTI-nutrients. Among other problems, its consumption is shown to lead to permeability of the gut lining (which causes the lining to allow things through that shouldn’t be able to do so). This makes it harder for the body to absorb the nutrients it needs from other foods (thus, wheat’s “anti” nutrient quality). Only if one is starving would modern American wheat seem like a good idea to consume. If you want to learn more about the healthlessness of wheat, I recommend Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. Dr. Davis is a cardiologist who explains the connection between consumption of wheat and lack of good health.
Yet another crop we subsidize – soy - is estrogen-laden junk that has created males with breasts and girls who mature way too early. See Hidden Dangers of Soy for more on the health effects of this crop.
So, we subsidize junk, which then finds its way to the marketplace with prices “supported” by the American taxpayer.
Subsidized Crops in the Marketplace
Because these unhealthy commodities are subsidized by the American taxpayer, they are cheaper once they get to the marketplace. In this way, federal subsidies have made some of the least healthy foods seem to be the most affordable. And, if all an individual consumer is looking at is the bottom line on her grocery bill, it is perfectly rational for her to chose to fill her cart with subsidized foods. After all, they are often the cheapest ones in the grocery store.
But, looking at the big picture shows how this “food” is anything but affordable – either to that individual or to all of us collectively.
The Effect of Subsidized Crops on the Cost of Health Care
Individually, we reap the “rewards” of this subsidized junk food in terms of its effects on our own health. Consuming these subsidized crops – directly or indirectly, through feedlot animals – leads to several illnesses and conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and various auto-immune disorders, just to name a few. So, we each pay both in terms of our precious health and our financial resources to treat the symptoms of our food choices.
Collectively, we also pay both direct and indirect costs. Directly, we the people pay the taxes that fund the subsidies that lead to the production of junk food. We also directly fund the agency that issues dietary recommendations favoring grains: The U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA is the agency that came up with the “Food Guide Pyramid,” which puts grains at its base.
Sidebar – did you ever wonder why it’s the Ag Department and not a health department that came up with dietary recommendations?
So, we have been taught by the USDA that we should be eating this stuff – “healthy whole grains” practically rolls right off the tongue. And, in obedience to the USDA’s recommendations, and in light of the apparent “affordability” of the foods it subsidizes, many of us eat the junk that gets us sick.
In a recent report to the UN, its special “rapporteur” on the right to food stated:
Heavy processing thrives in our global food system, and is a win-win for multinational agri-food companies. Processed items can be produced and distributed on a huge scale, thanks to cheap subsidized ingredients and their increased shelf life.
But for the people, it is a lose-lose. Heavily processed foods lead to diets richer in saturated and trans-fatty acids, salt and sugars. Children become hooked on the junk foods targeted at them. In better-off countries, the poorest population groups are most affected because foods high in fats, sugar and salt are often cheaper than healthy diets as a result of misguided subsidies whose health impacts have been wholly ignored.
Good thing the federal government has a plan for that, too . . . . which brings us to the indirect costs of these subsidies – health care.
BigPharma and BigInsurance
“Cigna CEO: Don’t repeal U.S. health law.” As this Reuters headline suggests, BigPharma and BigInsurance will be some of the BiggEST beneficiaries of Obamacare, if it survives its current challenge before the Supreme Court. The Act mandates that every American who is not otherwise covered by an employer- or government-sponsored insurance plan must purchase private health insurance or pay a penalty to the government, which will do so for you.
In other words, if I do not pay for my own health insurance (not care – insurance - meaning I cannot opt out of it and self-insure or self-care), the government will penalize me and then pay a private insurance company for my insurance. How could this not be a boon for BigInsurance? And, because no one can be denied coverage, we will all be in insurance pools with very sick people – many of them because they followed the government’s nutrional recommendations and rationally bought the cheapest food.
Thus, in considering the costs of federal agricultural subsidies, we must include the cost of caring for the health of those made sick by the government’s nutritional recommendations and by its manipulation of the free market to make those foods cheaper. (For the record, I do not blame individual patients for this – they were simply doing what they were told. I blame bureaucrats, politicians, and the BigAg lobbyists who greased their palms to get such ridiculous subsidizies and dietary recommendations through.)
All of this leads to the unmistakeable conclusion that, given the cost of health insurance and the current state of the law (i.e., that it is to be mandated as of 2014), there are huge hidden costs in the price tag of the foods we subsidize. The direct cost of requiring us all to subsidize agricultural commodities would be bad enough if those commodities were healthful. But, requiring us to pay subsidies to BigAg for junk food is truly unconscionable, given all the sickness those subsidized commodities have wrought upon the American people.
When we look at the big picture, it appears that Uncle Sam’s plan is to keep us paying – first, for BigAg subsidies for junk that’ll make us sick and later for health care for everyone the junk has made sick. It’s quite a racket.
My philosophy is: I’d rather pay my farmer now than pay my doctor later. So, I shell out the extra money for (or take the extra time to grow my own) organic produce, organic free-range eggs and poultry, grass-fed beef, and pastured pork. But, I do resent the triple cost of paying my farmer, paying farm subsidies to those who produce unhealthy foods, and paying for added health care costs because the government promoted those unhealthy foods.
I will continue to pay my farmer now in hopes of at least not paying my doctor later for my own health care and enjoying the health benefits that comes with that exchange. My hope is that other Americans will do the same, thereby exposing this racket and, hopefully, bringing us all back to good health.