Michael Pollan on the Farm Bill

It is Sunday. You have time to read it. And you should – no excuses! In today’s New York Times – You Are What You Grow:

For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system — indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system. Among other things, it determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root.


To speak of the farm bill’s influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact — on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities — or to the United States. The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico’s eaters as well as its farmers.) You can’t fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico.

Read the whole thing….

2 responses to “Michael Pollan on the Farm Bill

  1. But Mexican farmers have no vote on the farm bill. Farm state reps will vote for the short term interests of their constituents, the global picture be damned.

  2. Interesting connection you have made about immigration and NAFTA. I understand where you are coming from but I think you must also realize that as the US becomes more and more of a service industry and our population becomes more and more professional, we need people to fill the spots of unskilled jobs (farm hands, hotel maids, janitors, etc). These spots are likely filled by immigrants, and I might add, they are earning much higher wages even with increases in living expenses, than if they were still in Mexico.
    This summer I am interning for a biotech lobbying firm in DC, I came across your blog while searching for news on the farm bill (I will be attending many, shall we say entertaining, congressional hearings on this topic). What are your ideas on subsidizing farmers? Do you think that it creates more of a social welfare problem or a benefit to our society? Also, in reference to organics and the increased profits they receive above those who are not organic, do you think they should be paid for any contamination from biotech crops? Just some thoughts