Thursday, June 08, 2006

Full Public Accounting of Farm Subsidies Needed

by Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group
Common Dreams News Center
June 8, 2006

Today the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) took an important step towards complying with a requirement in the 2002 Farm Bill that mandates public disclosure of all beneficiaries of taxpayer-provided farm subsidies. Environmental Working Group researchers are preparing to add the new information to the organization’s existing Web site (www.ewg.org/farm) detailing all subsidy payments since 1995 (totaling $143 billion).

The USDA is today peeling back another layer of the subsidy onion, and as a result, the public is one step closer to knowing where billions of federal tax dollars go each year. These data will make it possible to trace in much greater detail than previously the ownership interests behind some of the largest, most heavily subsidized farm businesses in America.

We commend USDA for this progress on their commitment to provide full transparency of the farm subsidy program as section 1614 of the 2002 farm bill requires.

While this is an important step, the fact remains that the public has been subsidizing farms for over 70 years and only now are we getting close to a full public accounting of who is getting the money, and how much. One obvious gap that remains is how hundreds of millions of dollars paid to farm cooperatives—and lumped together as a single figure in the EWG Farm Subsidy Database—actually have been allocated to individual farm operations.

The vast majority of farm subsidy beneficiaries—small and medium size operations--are fully transparent and disclosed by USDA and on EWG’s Web site. But the largest recipients, including absentee owners of corporations, partnerships and other business ventures, who receive the lion’s share of federal farm subsidy money, have yet to have their taxpayer-provided support disclosed.

We are informed that USDA hopes to make such data available sometime in August, after which it will take weeks if not months to analyze the information and make it public. The public should not be expected to extend the current bloated, wasteful farm subsidy law, as the subsidy lobby is urging, until USDA has provided and the public has examined a full accounting of this huge taxpayer investment.

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