As food prices skyrocket, House committee calls for cutting food stamps instead of agriculture subsidies

corn.jpgI’ve focused the food insecurity series on impacts in developing countries.  Food is such a large fraction of their spending — up to 40% in Egypt — that a price spike can be devastating, which is why it often leads to political instability.

We’re not only the richest country in the world but its breakbasket, so price spikes only have a limited impact at a national level.  That said, many of the poor in America are living on the edge, so even moderate price spikes for necessities create hardship.  Corn prices, for instance, have nearly doubled from last year at this time — and corn is indeed now in everything.

The following TP repost looks at U.S. food insecurity — and the GOP reponse.

In 2010, 18 percent of the country “” nearly one in five households “” reported not having enough money to provide food at some point during the year. Last month, food prices increased by 3.9 percent, in the largest jump since 1974. Vegetable prices increased by nearly 50 percent, driven in part by weather disasters damaging crops in place such as Australia and Russia.

These trends are occurring at the same time that unemployment has remained unacceptably high, leaving many Americans with nothing but the social safety net standing between them and going hungry. But as National Journal’s Tim Fernholz reported, the House Agriculture Committee has called for a reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) in a letter to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI):

One part of the agriculture budget that has seen increases is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) where spending has tripled over the last ten years. Given the economic downturn and high unemployment which has left many Americans with few options, an increase in nutrition assistance spending is to be expected”¦.  But much of the cost increase has come through government action as opposed to the kind of macroeconomic forces that naturally result in increased subscriptions.

The letter’s co-authors “” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN) “” are correct that, in the face of the Great Recession, food stamp benefits were increased. But those increased benefits have (unfortunately) already been reduced to pay for a jobs bill that Congress passed last year.

And at the same time they’re pointing to food stamps as an area ripe for cuts, Lucas and Peterson say that the tens of billions in annual agriculture subsidies that the U.S. provides should be off-limits for reductions. At the moment, 61 percent of the subsidies that the U.S. provides for agriculture go to just ten percent of recipients. Though some restrictions on rich farmers receiving subsidies were placed into the 2008 farm bill, they were mostly ineffective. And entrenched lawmakers on the agriculture committee help to keep it that way:

The 15 congressional districts receiving the most in payments accounted for about a quarter of all farm aid”¦  Representatives from nine of those districts serve on the House Agriculture Committee, including the panel’s top Democrat and Republican.

At the moment, 90 percent of agriculture subsidies go toward the production of just five crops “” corn, wheat, rice, soy and cotton. “Most of that 90 percent went to the large farming corporations,” said Annie Shattuck of the Institute for Food & Development Policy. “Much of those commodities were not used for food, but for animal feed and industrial applications. Cotton is not even a food.” Yet lawmakers on the Agriculture Committee feel that this wasteful spending is more important than helping Americans families weather the Great Recession.

— Pat Garofalo in a TP cross-post.

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16 Responses to As food prices skyrocket, House committee calls for cutting food stamps instead of agriculture subsidies

  1. dan allen says:

    As the North American climate destabilizes and fossil energy becomes both scarce and expensive over the next few years/decades, our nation’s industrial agricultural model MUST change or risk catastrophic failure.

    We need to start the transition NOW to an agriculture that runs on modern sunlight and incorporates as much resilience to weather extremes as possible.

    For ideas on how to do this, see

  2. John McCormick says:

    Voter turnout in the 2010 elections was low and the crazies got their people out to the polls and we are living with the fallout.

    CP readers are not the subject of my rant. But it explains why we are reading the next repug attack on the lower class.

    Maybe those who think it doesn’t matter if they vote or not will start to think through a new scenario.

    Bad will become worse and eventually intolerable. But then, maybe too late to turn our democracy back into the hands of the not rich.

    Don’t vote? Why? Disaffected? Not!

    John McCormick

  3. jcwinnie says:

    My new nickname is the Jonestown Congress

  4. Leif says:

    Meanwhile, Quinoa, a complete protein food staple of some South American areas is becoming popular in the first world and becoming unaffordable to those in the area that raise it. Malnutrition follows as diets are forced to change to products that are less nutritious. Local food and the water to grow it is exported to rich nations while our agriculture industries are subsidized to not grow food.

    Anyone see a parallel to the potato famine brewing?

  5. Jeffrey Davis says:

    The current crop of Republican political ideas seem as if they were derived from a math book rather than from any human experience wrestling with the problems of the world. That’s giving them the benefit of the doubt since they could just as easily simply be corrupt.

  6. Roddy Campbell says:

    “We need to start the transition NOW to an agriculture that runs on modern sunlight….” – that’s just brilliant, dan allen.

  7. catman306 says:

    Jeffrey Davis@
    Could they be both corrupt and stupid? When stupid people come to power, they often feel that part of any wealth they oversee belongs to them (if they don’t get caught).

    I doubt if Karl Rove, Dick Cheney or the Kook brothers are exceptional at math.

  8. Jimbo says:

    Does the promotion of BIOFUELS have anything to do with the price rise? Just asking.

  9. Lou Grinzo says:

    I highly recommend the episode of PBS’ series Journey to Planet Earth, “Plan B: Mobilizing To Save Civilization”. I’m sure most CPers will recognize the “Plan B” part of that title and associate it with Lester Brown. He is, in fact, featured in the piece, and he delivers a brutally honest account of just how bad things are, climate-wise, regarding food. It’s very sobering stuff.

    The PBS page for this episode:

  10. Leif says:

    Jimbo, @ 8: IMO, YES, but not the only thing. One needs to also look at climatic disruption, soil depletion, water shortage, transportation costs, misplaced subsidies, speculation, dietary preferences, economic imbalances, …

  11. S. Majumder says:

    MUST READ: Tamino has an interesting analysis on recent food price rise:

    Analysis is subjective, but numbers don’t lie.

  12. S. Majumder says:

    Jimbo, @8: Follow the link @11, you should your answer.

  13. T. W. Dragon says:

    @ S. Majumder: Thanks so much for that link, sir/madame! Yay! Another blog that tells it like it really is. Thank you very much. :-)

  14. James Alberton says:

    JP Morgan makes money from food stamps !

  15. Tony O'Brien says:

    Starving citizens, with guns. Not the best of mixes for a stable society. Why is it so much better to spend billions locking people up rather than millions feeding them?

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Western powers have been mobilising for decades to control global food supplies in order to control recalcitrant poor countries. The consequences have been dire. Haiti was subjected to the full IMF, World Bank ‘Structural Adjustment Plan’ bastardy after Aristide was first overthrown in the 1990s and subsidised US rice was dumped there, ruining farmers and driving them to the slums around the cities, where the earthquake killed 300,000 of them and their families. Mexico got the same treatment after NAFTA, with subsidised maize from the US doing the same thing, abetted by the deepening drought.
    The future is not just clear, it is being carefully managed. Not just with the corn for ethanol disaster, but the spread of GE crops which, while profitable for Monsatan, impoverish farmers and lead to reduced yields, hence farmer ruin and suicide in the thousands in India. And Roundup is spawning a plethora of disasters, from soils sterilised of microscopic life, to the spread of fungal infestations and even novel organisms implicated in late stage abortion in cattle. And the bees continue to disappear, assailed by a litany of man-made ills. To top it all, the commodities markets are being rorted by financial gangsters, armed with trillions of make-believe dollars courtesy of ‘Helicopter’ Ben Bernanke, driving up prices in an orgy of speculation, profiting the parasites and starving the ‘useless eaters’.
    However things pan out, the crisis will, I believe, be used by the global elite to fulfill a decades old project, a massive cull of unwanted, feared and despised ‘surplus’ populations in the poor world. The evidence that this is a deliberate, purposive, policy is, in my opinion, unavoidable, and, given the history of the last few centuries, and the indifference of elites to mass starvation in Ireland, India and various other outposts of Empire, can we doubt that they have the wanton cruelty and callousness to see it to fruition?