Industrial scale farming costs a lot. You can measure the costs in the health of animals and humans both, the health of the rivers and streams that run by the farms, by the air quality near farms ... and, you can measure it in the misspending of taxpayer dollars.
That's according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which argues that the current state of agriculture in America is a product of neither farming innovation nor market forces, but quite simply bad federal policy.
Here's an example. Lawmakers took $35 billion from taxpayers (about three months' worth of Iraq war spending, or $115 for every man, woman and child in the United States) and gave it to farmers to pay for feed. But it only allowed those with confined animal feeding operations, not those who put cattle out to pasture, to benefit from our generosity. Would you pay $115 a year for that?
Once taxpayers have subsidized the gathering together of thousands of animals in small spaces, which causes massive pollution from stockpiled manure, we help pay farmers to clean up the pollution to the tune of more than $100 million annually. A relative bargain next to the grain subsidy, it costs each of us (even the newborn) about 33 cents per year.
That type of manure pollution, incidentally, has been implicated in the bacteria contamination of spinach that sickened 200 and killed three in 2006.
"If CAFOs were forced to pay for the ripple effects of harm they have caused, they wouldn't be dominating the U.S. meat industry like they are today," said Margaret Mellon, director of UCS's Food and Environment Program. "The good news is that we can institute new policies that support animal production methods that benefit society rather than harm it."
Expect this report to be part of a rising tide of criticism of factory farms.
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