While agribusiness is getting rich, American children are getting fat. But we might be able to turn that around. This fall, a piece of legislation that establishes national food policies and funds the production of high-fat, high-cholesterol foods—the Farm Bill—will be voted on by the Senate. PCRM has begun creating awareness of this issue with a timely new commercial.
The Farm Bill has a huge impact on the way Americans eat. The bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies, much of which goes to huge agribusinesses producing corn and soy, which is then fed to animals or processed into high-fructose corn syrup. This process keeps burgers, cheese, and processed snacks—the same products that contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease—cheap and available. Fruit and vegetable farmers, on the other hand, receive less than 1 percent of government subsidies.
The Farm Bill helps determine what children are fed in schools and what food assistance programs can distribute to recipients. Federal law requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy up beef, pork, chicken, cheese, and other commodities as a way to remove agricultural surpluses and provide price supports to agribusiness. Schools must serve these foods in order to qualify for federal support.
Given America’s obesity crisis, it seems intuitive that the government would want to take a look at the foods it is funding. But take a look at who benefits from these federal commodity contracts. The following examples come from 2005, the most recent year with complete figures:
Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in the U.S., with revenues totaling $26 billion, received $46.6 million in commodity contracts.
Smithfield Foods, the fourth-largest meat producer, with $11 billion in revenues, scored $18.2 million in contracts through two subsidiaries.
Pilgrim’s Pride and Hormel are the seventh- and eighth-largest meat producers, respectively. Pilgrim’s Pride pulled in $42.4 million in commodity contracts, while Hormel received $28 million.
These huge corporations thank Senate Agriculture Committee members and other senators and representatives through campaign contributions. Tyson Foods’ executives contribute thousands of dollars to the company’s political action committee, TYPAC, which gives campaign contributions to the members of the House and Senate agriculture committees, among others. In fact, members of the Senate Agriculture Committee received more than $5.5 million from agribusiness political action committees between 2000 and 2006.
PCRM made a humorous TV commercial to raise public awareness on this issue of campaign contributions by big agricultural interests affecting kids’ health. The spot was a spoof on the recent Sen. Larry Craig “toe-tapping” incident and his been running in Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. The commercial received enormous media attention, including mentions on MSNBC.com, The Wall Street Journal online, and in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.