Looking for a good deal?  Looking for the lowest price?  The homeless and the working poor are suffering, but most corporations seem to be doing very well these days, thank you very much.  Tax breaks and subsidies are boosting their profits while showering consumers with ‘good deals’ and the ‘lowest prices.’ 

One of the biggest recipients of tax breaks and subsidies are corporate farms.  Unless you buy your food at the local farmers’ market or at the farm gate, your food is even more expensive than you think.  You pay twice: You pay at the checkout, and you pay the IRS at tax time.   

Your taxes are that hidden line at the bottom of your grocery bill. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says 31% of total farm income in its member nations in 2001 came from government donations.  In Japan, farmers receive 60 percent of their incomes as subsidies.  In the U.S., a 2002 subsidy-laden farm bill will cost American taxpayers over $180 billion by 2010. 

While they enjoy your subsidies, corporations, including corporate farms, also enjoy the benefits of passing external costs on to the taxpayer.  “Externalities” such as greenhouse gas emissions, the accumulation of toxic chemicals, and health care for workers toiling under dangerous conditions are cheerfully passed on to the taxpayer. 

By the time the consumer realizes the real cost of ‘cheap’ goods, the bill is enormous.  In Western Australia, for example, a  childcare center was shut down this month after it was found to have been built on an old pesticides site owned by pharmaceuticals company Bayer.  The center’s owners said they were never told the site had once had a pesticides plant on it or that pesticides might have been dumped there.  The state government is checking to see if any other licensed child care center is on a contaminated site and the Health Department will assess the health of children who attended the center.

In Hastings, Florida, high school science students taking air samples in December 2006 found unsafe levels of pesticides in the air around an elementary school.  Lab tests found pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides levels deemed unsafe for a seven year old according to EPA data.  The school district has asked the University of Florida’s Cooperative Extension Office to review the findings and has asked an environmental engineering firm to sample and test air at the elementary school. 

Guess who pays?

Shifting to a system of incorporating all costs into prices isn’t as painful as you might think.  It has obvious health benefits, and you’re already paying anyway in higher taxes.

Australia and New Zealand ended all farm subsidies in 1987.   Taxpayers have benefited from lower taxes and better food; 99% of farmers survived and prospered, slashing spending, purchasing only essentials, implementing more efficient methods, and diversifying crops and livestock to respond directly to market demands. In Australia, farmers moved away from subsidized crops which were unsuited to Australian climates and soils and began producing cotton, wine, oilseeds, dairy products and rice.  Australian agricultural exports are soaring. The key to these successes was education.  While farmers lost their subsidies, they were shown different techniques and taught more efficient business practices.  The changes proved painless.

There are signs the revolution is coming to the U.S.  Elementary students in Omaha, for example, have been learning how pesticides can pollute surface water.  Students sprayed water containing Kool Aid and cocoa on a landform model and watched how the pollutants flowed into a lake and collected in puddles.One of the intentions of this environmental awareness program is to have students become excited about how amazing the natural world is.  But the program may also mean that when children go to the supermarket with their parents they’ll know a good deal – and a lousy deal – when they see it.

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