Here They Go Again

June 13, 2012

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its latest rendition of the farm subsidy database, and this one really is a piece of work.

Though Farm Policy Facts has been monitoring (and debunking) EWG attacks on rural America since 2007, EWG continues to spin complicated webs of half-truths to garner media headlines.

Five years ago we pointed out the irony of the group’s attacks on farm policy.  On one hand, EWG’s lobbyists praised conservation efforts and lobbied for more conservation payments.  On the other hand, they told Congress to gut farm policy.

The irony?

Many of the subsidy examples used by EWG to gain the press coverage necessary to harm farm policy were going to wealthy urban and/or celebrity recipients who were collecting conservation payments—not on agricultural production.

Unfortunately, in the past five years not much has changed.

EWG still adds years and farmers together to distort figures and make farm policy costs sound more expensive and egregious.  EWG still ignores the funding cuts made to farm policy while other federal policies continue to grow. And EWG still ignores the foreign farm subsidies used by some of the world’s biggest polluters to rapidly expand production.

Now, EWG has set its sights on crop insurance, and its tactics are “same old, same old.”

EWG again misrepresents “subsidy” costs by ignoring the returns—or underwriting gains—the government sees when farmers don’t have crop insurance losses.  The government saw underwriting gains from 2003-2010, which is why actual crop insurance costs are much lower than original Congressional Budget Office estimates.

As for those crop insurance “subsidies” that EWG is complaining about?  Seems they are being a bit misleading there too.

These “subsidies” are premium discounts that are accounting transactions within USDA bookkeeping. Farmers pay premiums for insurance, and there are no government subsidy checks to farmers.

Unless indemnities are paid to a farmer, there is no government outlay on that farmer’s policy. Even when there is a loss, taxpayer cost is reduced by the underwriting gains.

The Texas Farm Bureau was so frustrated by the latest distortion that it posted the following online:

“Butt out of the crop insurance debate, Environmental Working Group (EWG). Your most recent study of recipients of crop insurance is the same song, second verse of misleading and flawed analysis.

“You did the same thing in the past with your controversial database of direct and counter-cyclical payments. Your interpretation of the numbers didn’t pass the smell test then. You worked the numbers portraying cooperative payments as payments to individuals. Are you doing the same thing now?

“Your strategy is clear. With direct payments gone and deficiency payments rendered ineffective, kick the last leg of the safety net out from under American agriculture. Leave farmers flat on their backs without any hope of help.”

In fairness, EWG is not entirely anti-agriculture.

It does say it supports growing the nation’s fruit and vegetable production so that we are able to make healthy specialty crops even more affordable and available.

Of course, the only safety net available to fruit and vegetable growers—including the organic producers that EWG favors—is crop insurance.  So in a way, EWG is leaving America’s food and fiber supply without any workable solutions.

Maybe leaving U.S. farmers and ranchers without any workable solutions is exactly what EWG has in mind.