DC, September 9, 2003 (ENS): The biggest U.S.
farmers are receiving an increasing share of federal
farm subsidies, according to new data collected and
released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).The
findings come as the United States is preparing to negotiate
agricultural policies - including subsidies - with trading
partners at the World Trade Organization.
The organization finds that payment concentration is
on the rise - in 1995 the top 10 percent of recipients
received 55 percent of total subsidy payments, which
totaled $3.98 billion. In 2002, the top 10 percent collected
65 percent of total subsidies, a share worth $7.8 billion.
Over the time period from 1995 to 2002, the top 10
percent received 71 percent of total subsidy payments.
These numbers are part of EWG's first major upgrade
to its Farm Subsidy Database web site, which tracks
more than 108 million payments by the U.S. Department
of Agriculture that total $114 billion. EWG posted the
The group determined that from 1995 to 2002 some 80
percent of the $114 billion was paid to boost the incomes
of crop and livestock farmers, 12.5 percent went to
farmers and ranchers through conservation programs some
7.5 percent went for weather-related disaster programs.
Conservation's share decreased during this period,
EWG explains, as funding to conservation programs remained
level while commodity programs increased drastically
- at a time when they were supposed to decline.
"Why should we continue to provide direct payments
to the overwhelmingly largest producers of certain,
favored crops? These data reinforce our view that more
federal assistance, in the form of conservation program
support, should be made available to farms of all sizes,
regardless of what they grow," said EWG President
EWG says the peanut quota buyout has been a taxpayer
funded windfall for the largest quota holders. The top
10 percent of peanut subsidy recipients in 2002 collected
62 percent of the payments. The top recipients included
John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, which collected
$2,124,760 in peanut subsidies in 2002.
The group reports that the dairy subsidy program is
much more equitable than most commodity programs. In
2002, the first year the program took effect, the top
10 percent of recipients collected only 33 percent of
the dairy subsidies.
EWG's updated site provides thousands of new analyses,
including top-recipient listings and payment concentration
analyses at the state and county levels, and within
each major USDA program. EWG has also added, for the
first time, information provided by USDA on ownership
interests in subsidized farms.
The groups says its database is "by far the most
detailed accounting of federal farm subsidy payments
ever attempted." But EWG adds that gaps in USDA's
data inhibits a complete understanding of the distribution
of its payments.
For example, EWG was unable to trace most payments
to individual recipients that were made through rice
cooperatives that are listed as recipients of hundreds
of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies since 1995.
USDA has not revealed, and may not track, full recipient-level
information for payments made to most co-ops, partnerships,
corporations and other forms of business organization.
In addition, payments assigned to recipients that are
banks, state agencies, or Indian tribes also do not
reveal individual recipients of subsidy payments.
EWG's Farm Subsidies Database can be found at http://www.ewg.org/farm.