Washington is about to pass a humongous farm bill, and there has been wide coverage of the fact that the bulk of crop subsidies provided by the bill go to very large agribusiness operations with 60 percent of family farmers getting not a dime in crop payments. However, there's another agribusiness subsidy stuck in this whopper of a bill that gets little media coverage.
Under the guise of environmental improvement, it provides about $180 million to huge corporate entities that run industrialized hog and cattle operations. These factory farms keep the animals confined, feeding and medicating them in an assembly-line process.
Having hundreds of animals crammed into these factory facilities, however, creates a special problem for industrial agriculture: waste. Hogs and cattle defecate and urinate. A lot. What to do with all this excrement? They channel it into lined ponds, called manure lagoons.
In 2002, as these massive-scale livestock operations were spreading across rural America, corporate lobbyists quietly changed a farm conservation program to make them outfits eligible for funding and to declare that manure lagoons could be paid for as a "conservation measure."
How ironic, since these lagoons are notorious for leaking into groundwater, overflowing into nearby streams and fouling the air for everyone downwind. The factory operations also are squeezing small, sustainable farmers out of business so it's doubly ironic that your and my tax dollars are being used to subsidize them.
Our nation's environmental laws were based for years on the ethical precept that the polluter must pay. Now that's been perverted to the unethical notion that we must subsidize the polluter. Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush, on sale now from Viking Press. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.