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Location: United States

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Who pays for your food?

My wife, like most Americans I suppose, thinks of the local grocery store when she talks about where we get our food. I know differently. I was raised in rural West Texas and Eastern New Mexico amid huge farms of cotton, soybeans, sunflowers, peanuts, and maize and quite a few cattle ranches. I know what it’s like to sit down at a table that is laden with food that was brought forth from the earth by your own sweat and God’s grace.
Anyone who takes their life from the land also knows what its like to loose it to the land. No man can predict the weather and rain usually comes in two amounts: too much or not enough. Still, the vast majority of America’s more than two million farms make it without any direct monetary aid from the federal government. Only about one-third of all farms in the past eight years have received federal subsidies. Of this amount, eighty percent received a total of less than seven thousand dollars – less than a thousand dollars per year.
While eighty percent of the farms on the bottom of the scale split thirteen percent of the federal aid, the top one percent receives twenty-three percent of it. Some thirty thousand mostly corporate agribusinesses have received over a million dollars each on average in the same eight year period. In 2003 alone, Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation received subsidies in the excess of eleven million dollars. That was down from 2002 when they raked in fifteen million dollars in free government money.
Nor was Pilgrim’s Pride having financial problems. According to the company’s own documents, they posted sales of $2.6 billion in 2003, up from $2.5 billion in 2002. The net income in 2003 – the profit – was fifty-six million dollars. Since eleven million of that was government money, it was really only forty-five million dollars. This was the same year that Pilgrim’s Pride bought out ConAgra’s chicken industry, as well. To be fair, in 2002 Pilgrim’s Pride only made fourteen million dollars – which after you take back the government’s money would make it a loss of one million dollars – due in large part to avian flu scares and recalls of turkey products.
So, naturally, when the Republican controlled Congress starts looking for somewhere to cut spending, they automatically look at companies like Pilgrim’s Pride, right? Actually, they are intent on maintaining those subsidies and cutting nutritional aid to poor people instead. It seems like a perversion of common sense to give Pilgrim’s Pride several million to make turkey and chicken products; then turn around take more millions out of the hands of people who would actually buy those products.
This is not simply a “cut waste and fraud” type of cutting. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia freely admits that fraud in food stamps and nutritional supplement programs is already on the decline. This is despite the fact that only three-fifths of the people who could qualify for food assistance apply for it. In other words, we would have to increase spending by two-thirds to give everyone who needs it the current level of inadequate assistance for food.
To qualify for food stamps, a family of four had to have a gross income of less than $1,994 and a net income of less than $1,534. They could then receive a maximum amount of $471 worth of food assistance. If you work it out, that’s only $3.88 per person per day.
Perhaps the problem is that poor people simply don’t give Republicans enough money. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. has donated over $670,000 in soft money to Republicans. In return, they received eleven million dollars in subsidies in 2003 and fifteen million in subsidies in 2002. That isn’t a bad return for the money. Lonnie Pilgrim, who named the company after himself, hasn’t been shy about supporting Republicans, either. Pete Sessions, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Trent Lott, and George W. Bush have all found Mr. Pilgrim to be exceedingly generous.
The Bible teaches us to be generous to the poor, not the rich. The Republican tendency to spray wealth upon the wealthy people that support them and beat up the little guy is nothing more than a full-scale machine. It has to be stopped.

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