The Viva Vine: vol #5, no #2: September / October, 1996

Vegetarian issues:
Thoroughly dealt with
this 1996 election ... Not

Voting: Dole, Clinton are no friends to vegetarians


1. Corporate Welfare: what you're not going to hear about this election

2. A few examples of corporate welfare spending out of the USDA of interest to vegetarians

3. That Totally Hidden Subsidy

4. The Presidential Candidates

5. Ag Issues

6. Freedom to Farm

7. Candidate Nader

Government handouts that prop up food animal industries are a ready-made pipeline of tax-payer money--without which mega-killing corporate confinement systems could not have become the perversion of nature they are today.

Both Democrats and Republicans have favored food animal industries with huge subsidies. Following are just a few multi-million dollar programs of the USDA--programs that some are now calling "aid to dependent corporations":

Corporate Welfare: what you're not going to hear about this election

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By Pamela Rice

In a three-part series that began July 7, the Boston Globe revealed, "Every year, an estimated $150 billion--in the form of direct federal subsidies and tax breaks that specifically benefit businesses--is funneled to American companies. Critics call it 'corporate welfare'." The series noted that this Uncle Sam distributing corp. welfare$150 billion eclipses the annual budget deficit of $130 billion and is more than the $145 billion paid out annually for the core programs of the social welfare state. [Of course, these figures are dwarfed by America's yearly military budget will runs taxpayers roughly $260 billion--but this is not our focus now.]

Grants and subsidies are not all that industry is afforded. Industry in the United States is also largely exempt from its fair share of the tax burden.

An amazing statistic, also revealed by the Globe series, just about tells it all: just after World War II, the nation's tax burden was roughly split [equally] between corporations and individuals. But, according to the US Office of Management and Budget, after years of changes in the federal tax code and international economy, the corporate share of taxes has declined to one quarter of the total amount collected. That's a ratio that went from 1-to-1 fifty years ago to 1-to-3 today!

So, being afforded taxpayers' funds on the one side and being exempt from taxpayer responsibilities on the other has added up to quite a combination for industry in recent history. And this proclivity toward regressive taxation continues. Ergo, when the new Republican majority Congress recently found tens of billions to cut over the next 7 years from social services to balance the budget, the trend to put the tax burden on average citizens was only exacerbated. Only 2% of the cuts were made on subsidies to industry.

Is industry worth all of this support? Drawing upon research that has come in from a wide range of political perspectives--from the libertarian Cato Institute, to the conservative Heritage Foundation, to Ralph Nader's research teams, to the independent Common Cause, among others--the Globe found broad agreement, from the left wing to the right, that tax breaks that benefit specific companies and industries are blatantly unfair and bad for business--a millstone on the back of the nation's economy.

It's been found that corporate subsidies often don't pan out toward yielding jobs, and when they do, the jobs often end up overseas. Correspondingly, recipients of corporate welfare often are not asked to account in any way for the subsidies they receive.

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Some of the most generous corporate welfare out there, the Globe series revealed, goes to agriculture, along-side oil and energy. And if readers need a reminder, it should be noted that agriculture in the US, by and large, necessarily means animal agriculture--from grain harvesting to meat packing.

The following are just a few examples of corporate welfare spending out of the USDA of interest to vegetarians:

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That Totally Hidden Subsidy

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But the biggest subsidy of all to animal agriculture, is one that is totally hidden, and not even spoken about as such but for a few vegetarian and animal protection groups: that subsidy is the government policy which allows farm animals to be exempt from the Animal Welfare Act.

This mother of all subsidies ultimately does take its toll. While America's animal industry is saved untold billions it would otherwise have to spend providing humane treatment for farm animals, the America that allows this to go on can never completely project an unsullied image to the world, or to itself. This greatest of all subsidies has also allowed the meat and dairy industry to grow. And growth has meant power to counter environmental as well as health concerns put forth by vegetarian and environmental groups.

In the trenches of Washington D.C., animal industries fight on a daily basis the slightest movement toward any legislation for humane conditions for food animals. There's a reason for this. Every square inch of space in the sow's farrowing stall, the veal crate, the battery cage, the milking parlor; every disruption on the poultry processing line; every humanely euthanized cow at the stockyard, potentially costs industry money on its operations. So cruelty remains legal.

The Presidential Candidates

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As for Clinton and Dole--where do the candidates stand on corporate welfare? On farm subsidies and tax breaks? On the newly enacted farm bill? Do vegetarians voters have a choice?

Just after the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the candidates did have a chance to offer leadership against corporate waste in government. Clinton's own labor secretary Robert Reich challenged (even dared) the new legislative potentates to cut corporate welfare, naming it outright.

But neither Clinton nor Dole jumped on the bandwagon. Presidential campaigns cost big money, and it seems you can't get elected these days without big industry approval; fighting corporate welfare would be political suicide.

Indeed, Clinton and Dole certainly will be talking about welfare reform this year. But no, don't count on much being said about the industry kind.

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Still, big business seems to know which party serves its interests better. Dole is the bigger recipient of agribusiness PAC money, receiving, between the period of January to September of 1995, $568,000 from companies such as Archer Daniels Midland and RJR Nabisco. Clinton scored less with $145 thousand from companies such as Tyson Foods and Phillip Morris.

In late April of this year, according to a New York Times story, Clinton used his executive authority to shore up beef prices by having the US government buy about $50 million in beef. In May we found that this was only the first wave of a number of purchases totaling $163 million worth of beef patties and roasts for the school lunch program. Agriculture Secretary Glickman told the press later in the day, that this first round of beef purchases would not actually do that much to raise prices, but would provide a "psychological boost" to the industry.

On the same day of the $50 million announcement, Clinton also ordered the Agriculture department to open 36 million acres of environmentally sensitive land for grazing. The land is part of those acres that the Government now pays private owners to keep idle for conservation and environmental reasons. Those who take advantage of the option, according to the Times story, would forgo only 5 percent of the annual rental income the Government pays them.

Ag Issues

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On agriculture issues in particular, as private agriculture consultant John Schnittke puts it, when it comes to Clinton or Dole, it's "tweedledee and tweedledum." Both Clinton and Dole favor export programs, access to free markets and cuts in capital gains taxes; and they both oppose grain embargoes--all positive standpoints from the viewpoint of agriculture.

A President Clinton or a President Dole, either way, challenging Government payouts to agriculture is not likely to happen, and don't even think about concern here for animal welfare on the farm.

If you look at the Clinton track record in coddling the farm sector, Clinton is a typical Democrat, not challenging the status quo on wasteful spending. The Democrat's stance however, tends to appear to be concerned for the necessarily small farmer. "Safety net for the small farmer" is the phrase heard over and over.

Still, President Clinton has gone along with much of the Republican agenda, which, as we noted above, cut the social welfare safety net to a disproportionate degree to the benefit of industry. It's interesting to ponder the fact that where Bush used his veto power 44 times and Reagan, in 2 terms, 78 (both against Democratic congresses), only 12 pieces of legislation have been rejected by Clinton against his Republican Congress.

On trade issues, the Clinton administration was a staunch supporter of a free trade policy, pushing through NAFTA and GATT, both big, essential policies for U.S. agricultural growth.

Clinton, along with his appointed Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, have stood strong in working to push European nations to accept hormone- injected beef. Vice President Al Gore worked especially hard earlier this year to get Russia to accept US poultry imports after it threatened to ban them, citing safety concerns.

"Even though Clinton has been supportive of free trade ...I think Dole and the Republicans would be even more supportive in trying to knock down the remaining barriers," said Jeff Conrad, managing director of Hancock Agricultural Investment Group in Boston.

"Freedom to Farm"

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House majority leader Republican Dick Armey of Texas once compared the House Agriculture Committee's inner sanctum to Al Capone's Chicago, divvying up agriculture largess like gangsters. But while the Republican Congress that came in in 1995 had a chance to cut corporate welfare, it found that it was as dependent as Democrats on special interest groups.

Throughout its development over the last 2 years, Bob Dole counted himself a backer of the controversial Farm Bill. Nicknamed "Freedom to Farm" by its Republican writers, this bill was reluctantly signed by President Clinton early in April. Touted as a program to wean farmers away from the government dole, ironically it will, because of prevailing high prices for farm goods, cost the taxpayer an estimated $23 billion more than if previous legislation had remained in place--coming to a fixed $35.6 billion over the next 7 years.

Upon close examination, "Freedom to Farm," now officially named the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act, is nothing more than a general renewal of giant agricultural payouts that serve to benefit the large corporate farmer over the small family farmer. The difference this time is that the rhetoric that put it into law makes it appear as though it were reform legislation. It is, in fact, just the opposite.

According to the Environmental Working Group which conducted a tedious study of the Act when it was still a bill, "'Freedom to Farm' doesn't cut farm subsidies--it increases them. ...For today's 'agriwelfare' recipient, business has never been so good (or so bad for taxpayers)." It's almost hard to believe, but subsidy payments to farmers under this new set of laws will be made--to those farmers who sign up for the program--regardless of crop prices in the market. In addition, there are absolutely no requirements whatsoever to farm anything at all--a change from the old policy which paid farmers not to farm. You are eligible for the program if you have participated in a farm program in the past 5 years (discriminating against mostly young farmers just getting into the business); and, in general, the bigger your operation, the more you will receive. And then, adding insult to injury, your "farmer" doesn't even have to reside on a farm to receive the payments.

"'Obscene.' That is the word often used by insiders--policymakers, agriculture committee staff, farm journalists, farmers themselves--to describe the subsidy payments offered under 'Freedom to Farm'."--so began an article about the farm bill by the Environmental Working Group.

The nickname "Freedom to Farm" came from one of the original intents of the legislation. Where former farm legislation dictated what and how much a farmer could plant, the new Act eases up on some regulations. Still, according to the Environmental Working Group, "'Freedom to Farm' contains nearly as many restrictions ... as [previous] law, the model for which sometimes seems to have been the old Soviet 5-year plans."

"New Deal" style Democrats in Congress, such as Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, as well as the Clinton administration argued against "Freedom to Farm" on the grounds that farm subsidies would have to be cut too deeply. Now that grain prices have literally doubled over the past year, Clinton must feel pleased that he gave the bill his signature. In a recent speech, he said, "I wish I could promise you that we would have $5.00 corn, $5.50 wheat and $8.00 soybeans [historically high grain prices] forever, but I can't do that. It is encouraging that a lot of farms are finally able to earn some money, do some improvements that are needed on the farm, save some money for the years that may not be so good, and improve the overall economic position of family farmers around this country."

It's interesting, however, to note who the farmers are who are benefiting from the new farm bill. In an editorial a year ago in April, The New York Times criticized Clinton for defending subsidies to farmers who it called "the nation's richest welfare recipients; full-time farmers typically earn four times as much as non-farm families."

According to the Environmental Working Group, the top 2 percentile of federal farm subsidy recipients are receiving nearly a full quarter of the agricultural subsidy payments. They also reveal that "many of the top percentile of direct subsidy recipients also receive money indirectly." First they receive payments made out to them personally; then they receive checks made out to the businesses that they own. In addition, the Environmental Working Group discovered that a good proportion of the taxpayer-sponsored payments to farmers go to absentee farm owners who live in some of the country's biggest cities, in well-heeled neighborhoods. The new "Freedom to Farm" legislation, they said, when the Act was still a bill, "will give away millions more to these absentee owners than they would under current law."

Will these city-dwelling farmers receiving checks in the tens of thousands of dollars per year be making improvements on the farm? Don't count on it.

Candidate Nader

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What of faux-candidate Ralph Nader?

In his own words, the well-known consumers' warrior, "... will practice taking the corrosive impact of special interest money out of politics at the same time that it preaches campaign finance reform. This effort will focus on removing such money from elections, and ending the corporate welfare and other privileges that it buys."

Sounds very positive. And if that wasn't good enough, consider the fact that, according to a "Nation" interview in July, the Nader camp will not accept any campaign contributions!

Of course, the very things that make Nader so good are the real-world reasons we probably won't see him in the White House.

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