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How Food Subsidies Tax our Planet

By Elizabeth Kucinich
April 28, 2011
File under: Environmental Impact, Food Supply


You recycle your bottles. You haven’t used a plastic grocery bag since you planted those cute reusable totes in your car. Even the bag for your yoga mat is organic.

But did you know that every time you pay taxes, a portion of your money goes toward two of the most environmentally damaging industries on the planet?

Our government spends about $17 billion dollars in food subsidies in an average year and the biggest beneficiaries are the meat and dairy industries.

You may know that raising billions of animals in industrial farms takes a toll on the environment, but you probably don’t know the full extent. No one really does. But what we do know is enough to make a vegetarian out of even the most ardent meat lover.

The United Nations has reported that the meat and dairy industries are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions – that’s more than what is caused by transportation.

In fact calorie for calorie, meat production requires about 16 times as much gasoline as vegetables and rice, according to the New York Times. And the Worldwatch Institute found meat to be the source of 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions!

Raising livestock is also one of the primary sources of water pollution and toxic land. The EPA estimates that if we total the amount of raw waste generated by all the livestock in America, the amount would be three times more than what is generated by humans.

Making matters worse, animal waste isn’t treated like human waste. That translates to massive amounts of raw manure entering our waterways and seeping into our drinking water!

But what does this have to do with you? To answer that, we have to go back to those food subsidies.

Unlike many industries, agribusiness receives billions of dollars annually from our government through a variety of programs. These programs are funded by tax-dollars.

Most of the money goes to huge operations that grow corn and soybeans. But this corn and soy doesn’t end up in your chili or soy latte. The vast majority is used to feed livestock raised for meat and dairy.

In fact, according to soy producers, most soybeans in America are processed for their oil and protein for animal feed and only a small percentage goes to making tofu or soymilk.

The meat and dairy producers profit from subsidized feed because it lowers their production costs.

A study at Tufts University showed that purchasing subsidized crops as feed cut the operating costs for poultry companies by 13 percent over a nine-year period. For the chicken industry, this meant a savings of about $1.25 billion per year. Pig and cow operations benefit the same way.

On the other side of the environmental spectrum are the fruit and vegetable farmers, who leave a much smaller footprint on the environment. But, while meat and dairy growers benefit from about 62 percent of food subsidies, fruit and vegetable farmers see less than 1 percent.

This means the type of food that is worst for our environment gets the biggest boost from our government. It’s enough to make you want to curl up into a fetal position. But we can make a difference!

Read our report and take action today! Tell your members of Congress that when it comes to agricultural subsidies, we can save money and the planet by ending subsides that benefit the meat and dairy industries. It’s a budget fix that everyone can live with!

Elizabeth Kucinich is an experienced policy analyst and legislative advocate and the Director of Public and Government affairs for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in Washington, DC.

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An alternative approach to health, wellness and disease prevention. Marie Oser and her team of bloggers bring you creative natural solutions to issues affecting our health and wellbeing.

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