Subsidies, spending, and the environment


Citing urgent issues in science, health and the environment, the editors at Scientific American have compiled a four-item political wish list for the new Congress. It includes action on climate change (simple prudence), regulating tobacco by making cigarettes free of the radioactive isotope polonium 210 and other toxins, and ensuring that the Internet stays free and open.

But the first item appears here in its entirety (links are my contribution), because of its immediate and universal relevance to our lives:

Farm subsidies. The nation's agricultural policy is due for an update in 2012. This gives Congress an opportunity both to cut spending and to help the environment. Federal subsidies now mostly reward large farms for planting monocultures of corn, soybeans, wheat and rice. Much of that food goes to factory farms, where tightly packed animals provide a breeding ground for infectious diseases and produce vast quantities of waste that poses an environmental hazard. The current system devours fossil fuels, depletes the soil and pollutes waterways. It also makes high-sugar foods and beef artificially cheap, contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemic. Through a transition in the way subsidies are allocated, the government should encourage a progressive return to sustainable, integrated farming, which alternates commodity crops with legumes and with grass for pasture.

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