by Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian
Farm subsidies in the US amount to $53 billion dollars per year. A pound of hamburger would cost $30 without the subsidies that go to the farmers and to the wheat and soy used as fodder. Corn is heavily subsidized, and used for high fructose corn syrup. Its production also becomes a primary pollutant for the Gulf of Mexico. (https://agriculturefairnessalliance.org/news/2020-farm-subsidies/)
Annual subsidies to Canadian farmers total more than 8 billion dollars, with 5 billion to beef and 1.8 billion to slaughterhouses. Primary beneficiaries from our tax dollars are those farming beef, pork, poultry, egg, and dairy producers. Not growers of health-supportive organic vegetables and fruits! (See https://nationrising.ca/information-subsidies/
We know that farming can be hard work, with challenging weather and trade agreements. Yet we also that, according to the World Health Organization, meat is a “probable carcinogen”. Cured meats, –bacon, ham, and sausage– are “convincing carcinogens”; grouped in the same category as Roundup and cigarette smoking. Meats and also cheese (75% calories from fat) are linked with overweight and obesity. Scientists know that by adopting a plant-based diet, we can reduce our risk of hypertension by 75%; of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes by 62%; and various types of cancer by 19 to 50%. Do we want to subsidize foods that vastly raise our risk of these devastating conditions? Such subsidies contradict health guidelines in the U.S. and Canada’s Dietary Guidelines and the new Food Guide. With socialized medicine in Canada, we end up paying both the subsidies plus the overwhelming medical costs.
Our government says it wants to establish a “clean, safe and sustainable environment for present and future generations.” But compared with producing 1 kilo of beef protein, 1 kg of protein from kidney beans requires 18 times less land, 10 times less water, 9 times less fuel, 12 times less fertilizer, and 10 times fewer pesticides. Beef production generates considerably more manure waste than other animal or fish farming, all strong polluters. Pig farming creates immense toxic manure ponds. Some of the subsidies aim to reduce disease in these unfortunate pigs that are raised in crowded conditions, with foul air, before slaughter and to reduce diseases that can be passed on to humans. But now that we are aware of significant associated risks to the environment and to human health, does it make sense to continue heavily subsidizing animal products?
When it comes to meat, the subsidies are somewhat hidden. For example, financial support goes to the soy and corn that provide fodder for animals before slaughter, thus enabling the production of cheap industrial meat from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Some dairy subsidies go towards advertising that says we should consume milk.
Farmers are politically powerful because the vast majority of us are unaware of what these subsidies cost us. If informed, we might press for fewer subsidies for items that raise the risk of chronic disease and heavily pollute the environment. David Simon, lawyer and author of Meatonomics, has concluded that a McDonald’s burger that costs about $5 to purchase would actually cost $13 without all the subsidies.
Does this situation strike you as crazy? By relying on meat and other animal products, we make ourselves obese; raise our risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancers; and then destroy our planet.
The Canada Food Price Report 2019 forecasts that the price of vegetables and plant-based protein will rise, and the price of subsidized meat will drop. We would be better off to strongly subsidize lentils, other legumes (www.pulsecanada.com) and the farming of organic produce. These foods reduce our risk of chronic disease. Legumes (beans, peas and lentils) are known to support health, reduce inflammation and increase longevity.
To keep up to date on farm subsidies, follow and support the work of Nation Rising https://nationrising.ca/information-subsidies/ and Agricultural Fairness Alliance https://agriculturefairnessalliance.org/news/2020-farm-subsidies/
Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and author. Also see https://nutrispeak.com/videos/ for her talk on Let’s Shift Subsidies to Healthy Plant Foods.
- Taxpayers oblivious to the cost of farm subsidies. McKenna B, Economics Reporter, The Globe and Mail, 2018.
- Meatonomics, David Simon, author and lawyer. https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/e7-david-simon/id1291133235?i=1000396470432
- Pulse Potential: Why are Lentils and Beans Rising Canadian Crop Stars? http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/about-us/publications/discover-agriculture/pulse-potential-why-are-lentils-and-beans-rising-canadian-crop-stars-/?id=1412020012289
- 4. Environment and Climate Change Canada
- 5. Over $6 million in federal funding announced for Canadian pork industry https://www.realagriculture.com/2019/04/over-6-million-in-federal-funding-announced-for-canadian-pork-industry/