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Should our government continue to subsidize corn production?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | NOVEMBER 29, 2010 7:20 AM

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YES

Our agriculture-subsidy programs are a mess.

Too often they aggrandize Big Ag rather than protect small farmers from the vagaries of the weather. The programs bankroll energy-intensive livestock production and subsidize incredibly unhealthy — and ubiquitous — high-fructose corn syrup. And they're a huge financial burden: From 1995-2009, taxpayers shelled out an estimated $73.8 billion on corn subsidies alone, according to the Environmental Working Group.

So should we get rid of corn subsidies all together? The controversial subject will likely come up at a Farm Bill discussion tonight at the Iowa City Public Library. Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group, is putting on the event.

Despite the aforementioned foibles of the corn subsidies, I'd resist getting rid of them. Unlike other sectors, farming requires a certain amount of subsidies because of unpredictable weather to maintain profitability. Farmers shouldn't go hungry because their crops were wiped out in a severe storm.

Many on the left also offer up an additional critique of corn subsidies, however: Since the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement, our cheap corn has flooded the Mexican markets, putting thousands of poor farmers out of work.

It's a powerful argument, but I view it more as an indictment of our trade policies than an ipso facto reason to discontinue corn subsidies. A smarter change than outright elimination would be cracking down on corporate welfare by tying subsidies to income level.

One thing's apparent, though: The corn subsidy status quo cannot continue.

— by Shawn Gude

NO

In most cases, I strongly endorse the use of subsidies. I remain reluctant to hand over my tax dollars to prop up the corn industry, however — both for financial and health reasons.

First, when we're giving billions of dollars to large, successful farmers, I have problem. In addition, when the government heaps corn subsidies onto farmers, it ultimately drives down the price of corn and gives food companies the power to substitute for real sugar high-fructose corn syrup to sweeten our foods.

And why wouldn't they? They can use a sugar substitute that is extremely cost-effective for them, instead of a purer form of sugar that is ultimately better for us.

While the use of high-fructose corn syrup won't necessarily kill us (just yet), it is much harder for our bodies to break down, moving us in the direction of obesity and other health problems, such as diabetes. Although it may not seem like it, a lot of what we eat contains some form of corn.

Farmers need an incentive to push them toward healthier alternatives instead of relying on one or two main crops. Ending subsidization of the corn industry would do the trick.

While, unfortunately, it might hurt those on the bottom initially, it would also deter those who can do without the subsidies and funnel them toward other alternatives.

We might be doling out money to propel our farm industry, but some are abusing their privileges. It needs to be stopped.

— by Taylor Casey


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