Food, Not Feed

Our government, using taxpayer dollars, is propping up an abusive, industrial food and agriculture system that is making us sick, driving farmers off the land, caging animals, and destroying our water, soil, and air. This system prioritizes feeding corporate-controlled poultry and livestock over putting food on our neighbors’ tables. In fact, the U.S. is facing a national security crisis as we’re now importing more food than we export. Congress only opens the door for change every five years through the Farm Bill. 2023 is that year, and we have no time to waste.

WE WANT FOOD, NOT FEED

We’ll get into the nitty gritty, but let’s start simple.

At the heart of Food, Not Feed is the belief that the farm bill should create more opportunity for farmers, not more profits for corporations. 

Take it from rancher Mike Callicrate: Food Not Feed will rebuild our local and regional food systems.

OUR SUBSIDIES ARE UPSIDE-DOWN

Government food production subsidies should, at a minimum, align with government nutritional guidelines — yet the majority of government funding and taxpayer-backed programs in agriculture support corporate-controlled livestock and poultry operations and the production of grains (like corn and soybeans) to feed their animals. In fact, the United States has to import the majority of its fruits and vegetables, leaving us with a trade deficit in agricultural products.

The USDA recommends a diet of at least 50% fresh fruits and vegetables, but only 4% of federal farm dollars support their production. One need look no further than USDA’s classification of fruits and vegetables as “specialty crops” to understand their priority level within the agency.

Many Americans consider these to be “luxury” items due to their relatively high price point: In fact, nearly 90% of the U.S. population falls below the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vegetables, and 80% fall below the RDA for fruits. Studies have shown that consumers increase their intake when provided with better access to fruits and vegetables.

It’s time for our government to shift its support toward Food, Not Feed.

WHERE'S OUR MONEY GOING?

Contrast the meager support for fruits, nuts, and vegetables with the 30% of federal farm support dollars that industrial meat, poultry, eggs, and animal feed received in 2019.

These figures don’t even include the costs that industrial agriculture corporations externalize: Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent through conservation program investments to manage tons of industrial livestock waste and mitigate the harms of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. 

In addition to the costs associated with industrial agriculture’s impact on the environment, rural communities, and consumers, we are also collectively paying a high price for its effects on human health. A recent report estimates that the human health impacts of our food system cost us $3.2 trillion annually.

THE FEED-MEAT COMPLEX: HOW BIG MEAT POCKETS BILLIONS IN FARM SUBSIDIES

The majority of U.S. livestock and poultry is controlled by a handful of multinational corporations. If these corporations can reduce the cost of feed for that livestock and poultry, they will rake in more profit when they sell their beef, pork, or poultry.

That’s where government programs come in. Billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailouts, subsidies, and crop insurance are paid out each year to farmers who raise commodity crops. This dwarfs the amount paid out to producers of fruits and vegetables, and leaves many farmers with little choice in what they grow if they want to earn a secure living. The result is a market often flooded with cheap corn and soybeans, with meatpackers standing by to snatch up feed at below-production cost. 

To pad their profit margins, big meat conglomerates want cheap livestock feed. The pressure they place on elected officials to keep the subsidies, crop insurance, and bailouts flowing has so far ensured that our food production system churns out feed for livestock much more cheaply and efficiently than food for people. 

FEEDING THE WORLD? WE AREN'T EVEN FEEDING OURSELVES

Big Ag’s claim to “feed the world” is everywhere, and it’s effective: Most people believe that without massive, industrialized operations, the world would starve. The thing is, we actually have enough food to feed everyone, yet almost 700 million people worldwide are going hungry. In the United States alone, over 15 million households experienced food insecurity during 2017. That same year, almost 90% of cereal grains grown on U.S. soil were used for purposes other than human food. As long as monopoly companies can rearrange our food system to prioritize their own profits, industrial agriculture will never successfully feed the world.

Corporate control over the food system has manifested a national security issue as well as a food security issue: The United States is growing less and less of its own food and is becoming increasingly dependent on foreign countries to feed itself.

The U.S. agriculture system has in fact racked up a trade deficit due to our dependence on produce imports, thanks to monopolies’ focus on corn and soybeans, leaving Americans more vulnerable than ever to the whims of foreign governments and global trade.

Shifting support away from industrial grains would shore up U.S. food security and yield substantial economic benefits. Fruits and vegetables are higher-value products than the corn and soybeans the U.S. food and farm system currently prioritizes. Even though the soybean industry receives substantially more government support, its industry value is estimated at 20% lower than that of fruits and vegetables.

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According to Farm Action’s research, fruits and vegetables also require less acreage to turn a profit: If 270,000 acres of Midwest farmland (about the size of a county) were transitioned from corn-soy rotations to vegetable production, $882.4 million in farm-level sales would be worth about $3.3 billion when sold at retail. This form of production would yield roughly 6,000 new jobs and $345 million in wages. Nationally, a high-profit farming approach would create more opportunities for young and beginning farmers who struggle to gain access to land.

A FAIR FARM BILL WOULD PRIORITIZE FOOD, NOT FEED

As 2023 Farm Bill negotiations ramp up, the momentum is growing for meaningful reforms to our current consolidated food and agriculture system. Farm Action is calling for a fundamental shift in the United States’ agricultural support programs: “Food, Not Feed” is one of four pillars of change supporting Farm Action’s campaign for a Fair Farm Bill. People from all different backgrounds — farmers and ranchers, workers’ rights coalitions, nutrition advocates, animal welfare advocates, conservationists, and good food movement organizations — are joining this fight.

If we shifted resources and infrastructure to the production of food that feeds people — including fruits, vegetables, and regeneratively-raised livestock and poultry — we would see improved access to healthy, nutritious food and better health outcomes for Americans. Farmers would have more options in what they grow or raise, and could escape the treadmill of industrial agriculture while profitably growing food for their communities. We must also support regenerative livestock production with more local food infrastructure like processing plants. All of this would ensure our long-term food security and resilience to economic and environmental disruptions.

What would success for Food, Not Feed look like?

  • A shift in government support from feed grains for industrial livestock production toward vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, mushrooms, and cereal grains, allowing farmers more choices to profitably grow food for their communities.
  • Increased financial and technical resources in the Farm Bill for farmers transitioning away from industrial agriculture and toward conservation and regenerative practices. Over time, a more climate-smart agriculture system would be more resilient and less costly for taxpayers.
  • Requirements in the Farm Bill for farmers to meet certain conservation standards in order to participate in federal crop insurance, commodity/price support, and disaster payment programs.

FOOD NOT FEED SUMMIT

Farm Action and a powerful coalition of farmers, health, environmental, labor, and animal advocates hosted the Food Not Feed Summit in Washington to demonstrate the need and momentum to fundamentally change America’s agriculture policies.

Ahead of the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization, the Summit advocated for a policy shift in federal farm supports toward fiber-rich foods and regeneratively raised livestock and poultry within a system that’s fair and equitable from seed to fork.

JOIN THE FOOD, NOT FEED CAMPAIGN

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