Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm Bill, which fails to make meaningful reforms to correct this imbalance in our food policy:
1. “Direct Payments” Bait and Switch
The Farm Bill eliminates the “Direct Payments” program—long the poster child for wasteful agricultural subsidies, known for handing out checks to rich landowners who don’t even farm. But in a political sleight of hand, the bill plows more than half the savings from cutting Direct Payments into a new subsidy program that will continue to give handouts to large agribusinesses that don’t need our tax dollars.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The new “Shallow Loss” programs would lock in the record high prices of recent years. A study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group found that if prices fell, the new program could cost taxpayers $20 billion more over the next decade than the discredited “Direct Payments” program.
2. Big Profits Mean Big Subsidies
Since 1995, just four percent of agribusinesses have made off with three quarters of the subsidies. Yet the bill does next to nothing to reduce or eliminate subsidies for agribusinesses with high incomes. For millionaire farmers, the checks will keep on coming.
3. No Caps Mean Million Dollar Checks
The bill fails to put any cap on how big a check an agribusiness can receive to help pay its insurance bill. Currently, taxpayers pay more than 60 percent of the premiums for insurance that compensates agribusinesses for poor yields, price declines or both. On top of that, taxpayers pay 15 private insurance companies $1.3 billion to run the program.
Because the program has no caps, 26 agribusinesses have received more than $1 million in a single year, while 80 percent get $5,000 on average, according to a study from the Environmental Working Group.
Instead of reining in this program and capping how much agribusinesses can receive, the bill would actually expand it.
4. Paying to Market Big Macs and Underwear Abroad
The Farm Bill makes no changes to the $200 million per year Market Access Program, which has subsidized ad campaigns for giant agricultural companies and their trade associations. Companies receiving funding have ranged from McDonald’s to Fruit of the Loom. Taxpayer money has even been used to pay for a reality TV show in India to promote cotton. Companies are perfectly capable of buying their own airtime—they don’t need taxpayer dollars to subsidize their ads.
5. Subsidizing Junk Food
At a time when America faces an obesity epidemic, billions in subsidies underwrite the production of junk food additives. Between 1995 and 2012, U.S. PIRG research found that $19.2 billion subsidized four common junk food additives, including high fructose corn syrup. That’s enough to buy every kid under 18 eight 2-liter bottles of soda every year. By contrast, the subsidies for apples—the only fruit or vegetable that gets significant subsidies—would pay for less than half of an apple for each taxpayer.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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