Farm Bill & News Hub

Does the USDA spend more on food crops for humans, or feed crops for animals?

Connie Spence
December 13, 2021

Previously, we’d shown that in 2020, far and away, subsidies and bailouts favored animal production.

Before we go on, note the sizeable ‘uncategorized’ portion. That constitutes approximately $13 billion that, as far as we can tell, is untraceable to end products. We’re working on gaining clarity into that number, but for now, all we can do is note it.

To answer the original question, and using data that we can trace to end products, we found that in 2020, US Farm Policy favored the production of animal feed crops over plant-food crops for humans to eat.

In 2020, including all bailouts and subsidies, the USDA prioritized the growing of livestock feed over the production of plant-based foods for human consumption.

American Farm Priorities are Unhealthy

In a recent study,1 researchers found that this subsidy breakdown – where the majority of farm supports prop up wheat and livestock feed is unhealthy:

Among US adults, higher consumption of calories from subsidized food commodities was associated with a greater probability of some cardiometabolic risks. Better alignment of agricultural and nutritional policies may potentially improve population health.

Furthermore, according to the USDA2, Americans aren’t meeting their daily intake recommendations for fiber. Yet when you look at U.S. farm policy priorities through the lens of which producers receive the most aid, zero-fiber meat products top the list, while high-fiber vegetable growers find themselves at the bottom.

2020 was an Extraordinary Year

In a normal year, farm supports tend to total about $20 billion, yet, in 2020, they topped $53 billion.

In 2020, between the COVID-19 pandemic and trade disruptions, the USDA tapped into the CCC and paid out billions via the Market Facilitation Program and Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs.

Removing those extraordinary programs, here’s what the ‘base’ farm supports looked like:

On one hand, it’s gratifying to see that baseline subsidies for crops for humans were slightly higher than those for feed crops. On the other hand, what this means is that, during a time of crisis, our government rushed to the aid of livestock and animal feed crop producers the most, thereby revealing the inherent priority: make meat cheap and accessible to all Americans.

AFA simply asks that the USDA prioritize making fruits and vegetables affordable and accessible to all.

Land Use Reflects Federal Farm Priorities

Roughly 77 million acres of American cropland are used to grow plant foods that Americans eat, while 128 million acres grow crops for livestock.3 Now you know why.

Farm Policy Priorites

You might think the USDA would be following a farm policy that encourages the production of foods recommended the agency recommends we eat.

But you’d be wrong.

USDA MyPlate nutritional recommendations show that 80-100% of our plates should be filled with plant-based foods. But only a small portion of farm program expenditures promote the production of these foods.

You also might think that US farm policy would be crafted to contribute to achieving the national climate goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, and therefore favor the production of plant-based proteins over animal-based proteins.

Unfortunately, again, you’d be wrong.

The US government prioritizes the rearing animals for food. The U.S government results in meat being a staple, when it should be a delicacy. Meanwhile, for many Americans, fresh fruits and vegetables are the delicacies. This is upside-down policy, and a terribly inefficient way to spend our tax dollars. For every 100 calories fed to a pig, for example, only ten calories are made available for humans. By most ecological measures, it is far more efficient for humans to eat plants directly, than to filter their nutrition through animals.

Now that you know America’s real priorities in farm policy, what are YOU going to do about it?



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