Groups, Lawmakers Demand Cuts to Ag Subsidies, Deliver Petitions from 278,000 Citizens, 1,000 Small Farmers

Media Releases

Media Contacts
Dan Smith

Bipartisan Lawmakers, Unlikely Allies Join for Capitol Hill Press Conference


Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. PIRG joined Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI) and Tom Petri (R-WI), the daughter of a Maryland small farmer, and groups from across the political spectrum to deliver the latest of 278,000 public petitions and 1,000 letters from small farmers calling on Congress to end subsidies to large agribusinesses. These subsidies, which send more than 1 billion dollars a year to crops that end up in junk food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, are part of the Farm Bill — which will expire at the end of the month if Congress doesn’t act.

Groups speaking at the event included the National Taxpayers Union, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Environmental Working Group, and the R Street Institute.

“Thousands of Americans, lawmakers from both parties, and groups from across the political spectrum all agree that it’s time to end wasteful handouts to Big Ag in the Farm Bill,” said U.S. PIRG Tax and Budget Advocate Dan Smith. “Almost anything would be a better use of our tax dollars than sending checks to giant, profitable agribusinesses.”

“Farmers and taxpayers across the entire political spectrum know that our agriculture subsidy programs need to be overhauled,” said Congressman Kind. “As the representative of one of the largest agricultural districts in the country, I’m committed to working in a bipartisan fashion to bring real reform to American farm policy so that taxpayers and family farmers are put ahead of big agribusiness.”

“Currently, the federal government subsidizes roughly 62% of farmers’ crop insurance premiums at a cost of $9 billion a year, but America’s small farmers receive only 27% of the subsidies,” said Congressman Petri.  “That doesn’t seem right to me.  We need to put in place reforms that keep a safety net in place for farmers who truly need assistance, but also ensures the program is not exploited—which ends up costing taxpayers a lot of money.  I’m glad to be a part of this bipartisan effort to make sensible reforms to the crop insurance program.”

Since 1995, $292 billion has been spent on agricultural subsidies, with three-quarters of the subsidies going to just four percent of farmers. Over 60 percent of farmers don’t receive any subsidies. Furthermore, these subsidies mainly support just a few commodity crops, including corn and soybeans. 

Among other uses, food manufacturers process corn and soy crops into additives like high-fructose corn syrup. U.S. PIRG research has found that over $1 billion a year in subsidies ends up going to four common junk food additives – corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils.

“I am disappointed in how our current food system gives large subsidies to giant agribusinesses that don’t need the money, said Sophia Maravell, the daughter of a small organic farmer and Education Director of Brickyard Educational Farm in Potomac, Maryland. “These subsidy programs may help agribusiness giants like Cargill and Monsanto, but they do little for small family farms like mine.”

At the press conference U.S. PIRG’s Dan Smith urged Congress to make the following reforms in the final Farm Bill:

–        End the nearly $5 billion per year “Direct Payments” program, which is known for handing out checks to landowners who don’t even farm and has long been the poster child for wasteful agricultural subsidies. If Congress fails to pass a Farm Bill by the September deadline, this wasteful program should not be part of any extension of the current law.

–        Cut crop insurance subsidies for the wealthiest agribusinesses. The Senate took a positive first step by approving the bipartisan amendment from Senators Durbin and Coburn to reduce subsidies going to farmers making more than $750,000. This limit should be strengthened, but at the minimum it should be kept in the final bill.

–        Enact common sense caps on the crop insurance program so that no agribusiness can receive million dollar checks.

“It could not be clearer where the public stands on handouts to big agribusiness. Lawmakers should stand with small farmers and ordinary taxpayers by finally putting an end to these wasteful subsidies,” concluded Smith.


# # #

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.