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Forum Post: Congress Cuts Food Stamps While Expanding Welfare for Corporate Farms

Posted 3 years ago on Jan. 30, 2014, 3:38 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Congress Cuts Food Stamps While Expanding Welfare for Corporate Farms

Thursday, 30 January 2014 12:53 By Jessica Desvarieux, The Real News Network | Video Interview

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21560-congress-cuts-food-stamps-while-expanding-welfare-for-corporate-farms

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TsV7RSeNuA4

More at The Real News

Jason Rano: The crop insurance system lacks transparency while the SNAP program has one of the lowest fraud rates of any government program.

TRANSCRIPT:

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

The House and Senate reached an agreement on the farm bill to cut food stamps by $8 billion over the next decade. Conservation programs were also cut, by $4 billion. And while direct subsidies to farmers was cut by $14 billion, taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance for farmers was increased by $7 billion. We should also note that both the Senate and the House's original bills cut food stamps and expanded the crop insurance program. This is the first time in history that Democrats supported cutting food stamps.

Now joining us to discuss all this is Jason Rano. Jason is the director of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.

Thanks for joining us, Jason.

JASON RANO, DIR. GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS, ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP: Thank you for having me.

DESVARIEUX: So, Jason, we know that direct subsidies will be cut by $14 billion, but crop insurance will increase by $7 billion. First off, what is crop insurance? And how does that differ from direct subsidies?

RANO: Crop insurance is--I like to think of it as similar to car insurance, and the difference being that taxpayers subsidize a lot of farmers' premiums for the crop insurance program. On average, taxpayers subsidize 62 percent of a farmer's premiums. We also subsidize the crop insurance industry to the tune of up to $1.3 billion annually.

The difference is that direct subsidies, you didn't have to actually be farming; you just had to own a stake in land that was being used. For crop insurance, you actually have to be farming and have to suffer a loss.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. And according to your organization--I want to get a sense of who is actually receiving these subsidies. You say farmers, but we can get a little bit more specific. Let's take a look at your website here, and let's focus on one of the biggest agricultural producers, California. We can see here that if you take a look, that 91 percent of farms in California did not collect subsidy payment. And that's according to the USDA.

So does the majority of subsidies go to the largest farms?

RANO: They do. In California, 10 percent of the farms collected 73 percent of the subsidies. When it comes to crop insurance, in 2011 the top 20 percent of policyholders collected 73 percent of the payments.

The difference between the programs is, because there is no transparency in the crop insurance program, we don't know who the individuals are that collect crop insurance subsidies. At least in the direct payment program we had a clear understanding of who the farmers and agribusinesses were that were collecting these taxpayer subsidies. The same cannot be said of the crop insurance program.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. So there seems to be a lack of transparency here.

But I need to clarify one point, because many of the insurance premiums end up in Wall Street financial firms. Is that right?

RANO: One of the issues we face is we're not really sure where premiums subsidies go. What we do know is in 2011, 26 people in agribusinesses received at least $1 million in premium subsidies from the taxpayer, and 10,000 received at least $100,000 or more. We also know that we subsidize the crop insurance industry upwards of $1.3 billion annually to sell these crop insurance policies and to administer them. But because there is a lack of transparency, we don't know much about the individuals and agribusinesses receiving these subsidies.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Fair enough.

Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about the other portion of the farm bill, and that's food stamps. Critics of the food stamp program claim there is massive fraud. And House Republicans' original bill, they mandated drug testing. How does fraud in the food stamps program compare with fraud in the crop insurance program?

RANO: Well, government reports repeatedly show that the SNAP program has one of the lowest fraud rates in the government. One of the issues with crop insurance fraud is we don't really know. There hasn't been an in-depth examination by Congress to look at fraud rates in the crop insurance program.

We do know that there have been several outlandish cases of crop insurance fraud recently, including one last year in North Carolina with 41 defendants pleading guilty or being found guilty of conspiring to defraud the taxpayers and the government of $100 million through the crop insurance program. But there hasn't been as in-depth an investigation or focus on crop insurance fraud as there has been on perceived or real SNAP fraud.

DESVARIEUX: What would your organization suggest as an ideal farm bill?

RANO: Sure. One is a full funding of nutrition assistance to make sure that those in need receive the food that they need. Focus on healthy and local foods. A reformed and strengthened crop insurance that makes sure that those farmers that needed the assistance and the program the most received it, not just the wealthiest farmers and agribusinesses. And strong conservation funding and practices to protect the land for the next generation of farmers.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Jason Rano, thank you so much for joining us.

RANO: Thank you for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

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[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 3 years ago

Occupy Monsanto Protesters Push Labeling Resolution at Annual Shareholder Meeting

Saturday, 01 February 2014 09:21 By Lacy MacAuley, Occupy.com | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21592-occupy-monsanto-protesters-push-labeling-resolution-at-annual-shareholder-meeting

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LkAyO_-mjDI

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Protests occurred both inside and outside the Monsanto shareholder meeting in St. Louis on Tuesday as local activists, shareholders and citizens from across the country joined in 20-degree weather to demand the biotech giant label genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs.

The activists arrived accompanied by five colorful “fishy cars” representing the fishy food that has been genetically modified and consumed by Americans now for decades. Protesters hoped to make a single powerful statement: Label it.

For the first time ever, Monsanto shareholders convened to vote on a resolution to support GMO labeling – brought by shareholder and food safety activist Adam Eidinger of Occupy Monsanto, and presented by family farm advocate Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now!

“We’re just coming to their shareholder meeting as a response to what they’ve been doing around the country," said Cesar Maxit, designer and architect of the five fish art cars. “We’re taking the fight to their home, their shareholder meeting, saying we’re sick of it.”

Last year, Maxit finished the construction of what have become nationally recognized faces in the fight for GMO labeling – half-fish, half-food sculptures mounted atop five cars. Paint jobs on the cars read “Label GMOs” and encourage passersby to tweet about the “fishy car” they’re standing near. Each sculpture has a "unique personality" representing a different GMO crop: Fishy Apple, Fishy Soybean, Fishy Tomato, Fishy Corn and Fishy Sugar Beet.

“We need to label our food," added Maxit. "The idea is that we’re not trying to scare people – we’re just trying to use humor and art" to educate people about the importance of labeling GMOs.

Food Democracy Now!'s Dave Murphy served as the proxy on Tuesday presenting the GMO labeling resolution to the Monsanto shareholders.

GMOs are organisms, such as corn or tomatoes, whose genetic makeup have been modified in a laboratory and spliced using DNA from bacteria, viruses or even fish. Many believe the “fishy food” causes health problems such as cancer. Thorough, long-term studies have yet to be completed on the health impacts of GMOs.

And until the products we consume get labeled, activists are worried it will be impossible to track the real effects of the food in our systems.

“We’re asking that Monsanto stop fighting the will of the American people, 90 percent of whom want to know if their food has been genetically engineered in a laboratory,” said Murphy, whose organization has bloomed into a grassroots movement of more than 650,000 farmers and citizens dedicated to reforming America's food system.

“If Monsanto can profit off a patent in their products and label their foods in India, China, Russia and South Africa, they can certainly agree that Americans should have this basic right as well," he added.

Yet, "In the past two years, Monsanto has spent more than $13.4 million to defeat GMO labeling efforts in California and Washington state. This is an outrageous fortune wasted.”

A second shareholder resolution that was to be voted on at the company’s annual meeting, sponsored by activist investor John Harrington, dealt with Monsanto’s potential liability to organic farmers.

In October, more than 700 activists descended on the company’s St. Louis headquarters as part of the global March Against Monsanto. Protestors flooded onto the roadway, blocking traffic and overwhelming police on the road leading to their offices.

The city had previously seen large protests for the first March – an international day of action in May of last year, when some 2 million people participated in events in nearly 500 cities.

“The thing about labeling GMOs is: what’s wrong with transparency?" said Shamal Halmat, 26, one of the activists gearing up to protest in 20-degree weather on Tuesday.

“There shouldn’t be anything wrong with transparency. That’s really what’s being asked for," added Halmat, "so hopefully if they don’t really have too much to hide, they’ll be transparent.”

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.