Farm Subsidies

One Pizza, With Extra Federal Handouts

The pork in your favorite pizza isn't just pepperoni.


Jakob Dettner

The debt ceiling debacle may have come to an end for now, but wasteful federal spending is still a center-of-the-table issue, perhaps not unlike an extra-large pizza covered in government pork.

Take pepperoni, for example. Imagine that you're producing pigs, parts of whom are destined to be on top of pizzas nationwide.

Of course, most businesses operate under established economic laws. They produce enough to supply what demand there may be, and if they want to try to increase demand, they drum up business through the normal routes, like advertising. If they produce more than what the market demands, they shrink to better accommodate the circumstance.

Not so, though, if you happen to be in the business of producing pigs. In that case, the basic principles of a free economic system need not apply.

In fact, the federal government spends millions to bail out its friends in pork production—an industry notoriously resistant to even basic standards of ethical business conduct—divorcing pig production from actual demand. For example, when the industry took a hit from the all the swine flu media attention, TIME reported on the $30 million federal buy-up of surplus pork, noting, "If you're in prison, now might be a good time to develop a taste for pork."

Reason readers are likely already familiar with the perverse federal subsidy system that doles out billions to major agribusiness nationwide. When ag subsidies began, in the 1930s, then-Secretary of agriculture Henry Wallace called them "a temporary solution to deal with an emergency." That temporary solution has now lasted nearly a century, in both good and bad times for farmers, and even today when farm household incomes greatly exceed our national average.

But less well-known are the federal efforts to directly aid pork producers. The swine flu surplus buy-up was unfortunately not an isolated incident. In fact, when the country started experiencing drought, USDA stepped in to buy an additional $100 million of unwanted pork.

Were public school kids, service-members, prisoners, and other recipients of federally purchased food demanding more pig on their pizzas? No. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was clear about the motivation: "President Obama and I will continue to take swift action to get help to America's farmers and ranchers." No doubt many other industries wouldn't mind the administration paying them for products they're having a tough time selling.

And it's not just the pepperoni on the pizza getting a helping hand from Uncle Sam.

The dairy producers supplying that bed of cheese for our pizzas benefit tremendously from federally supervised programs that spend millions of dollars to "get people to eat more pizza." That's right. As the first lady encourages us to eat healthier and get active, the administration is at the same time signing off on a dairy checkoff program that spends millions urging Americans to pick up another slice of Three Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza Extreme.

Do national pizza chains really need federal freebies? After all, as author David Simon points out in his new book Meatonomics, the dairy industry spends more on advertising in one week than the blueberry, mango, watermelon, and mushroom industries spend together in a year.

Ironically, despite their reliance on big government handouts, pork and dairy producers desperately fight any proposed rules governing their conduct, whether they relate to animal welfare, environmental protections, food safety or other issues that affect our society.

The meat and dairy industries may like to proclaim a libertarian mantra when it comes to regulation, but when they suffer from lack of demand, their clamor for socialism is stark. The industries consistently come to Congress with outstretched arms and cupped palms, seeking to defy the normal laws of economics that other businesses must navigate.

And make no mistake about it, this is a tasty deal for farm interests. When the auto industry got its federal bailout, serious strings were attached, like improving fuel efficiency and eliminating corporate jet budgets. But when the government subsidizes pork and dairy producers, for some reason, they don't have to pay taxpayers back, or give anything in return.

They just get  a completely free lunch—pizza, most likely.

NEXT: Brickbat: Separate but Unequal

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  1. The meat and dairy industries may like to proclaim a libertarian mantra when it comes to regulation, but when they suffer from lack of demand, their clamor for socialism is stark

    I confess, I am in business to make money

    Do you really expect a group of real people to not agitate in the manner that best advances their bottom line? (Of those who actively agitate rather than passivly tick boxes)

    1. I botched the blockquote 🙁

      1. But you beat Fisty to posting. 🙂

  2. At least nobody’s calling for the subsidization of alt-text.

    1. That’ll change once the alt-text industry hires the right lobbyists convinces our public servants of the compelling public need.

  3. Major Major’s father was a sober God-fearing man whose idea of a good joke was to lie about his age. He was a longlimbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving, law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was creeping socialism. He advocated thrift and hard work and disapproved of loose women who turned him down. His specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce. Major Major’s father worked without rest at not growing alfalfa. On long winter evenings he remained indoors and did not mend harness, and he sprang out of bed at the crack of noon every day just to make certain that the chores would not be done. He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county. Neighbors sought him out for advice on all subjects, for he had made much money and was therefore wise. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” he counseled one and all, and everyone said, “Amen.”

  4. This is the sort of thing that progtards blame on the free market.

    1. “progtards blame on the free market”

      What free market?

      I was surprised to see the auto industry held out as some kind of counterexample where ‘serious strings were attached.’ The auto industry is perhaps the most heavily subsidized business in existence. A trillion, isn’t it, spent each year on securing oil supplies in the middle east and the sea lanes, how many more billions, all tax payer funded, spent on the national and local road networks…

  5. this article is just a cheap attempt to stir up the great H&R pizza debate.

    1. There’s no Great H&R pizza. I go to the local place down the street. Quality always seems to bomb once a pizza place goes chain.

    2. see, government spending is like making a pizza, but then sort-of opening it into some sort of deep, deep dish-like structure and filling that deep dish with all sorts of wasteful programs, like support for circumcision and abortion. You add a topping of the Artisanal Mayonnaise of graft, then wash it down with a cosmo or some other hipster cocktail of corporatism and dogma.

  6. Nothing helps the poor quite like propping up food prices! I mean, if supply and demand were allowed to work, and food prices were to drop, poor people would be even fatter than they already are!

  7. It’s the quality of the ingredients that matter. Sheesh, look at the picutre!


    1. ‘big picture.’


  8. When the auto industry got its federal bailout, serious strings were attached, like improving fuel efficiency and eliminating corporate jet budgets. But when the government subsidizes pork and dairy producers, for some reason, they don’t have to pay taxpayers back, or give anything in return.

    Auto bailouts good. Meat and cheese subsidies bad. Fuck Paul Shapiro

    1. gotta love the disconnect wherein “serious strings” doesn’t mean coercion but, rather, ‘things I like.’ If only there was a word for govt dictating to private enterprise how it should behave. Of course, when you take money from the devil, be prepared to dance to his tune.

      1. Yeah, what the eff Paul Shapiro? Since when do “serious strings” in the context of a bailout mean fewer corporate jets and better fuel economy? As a taxpayer nobody fuckin’ asked me if I’d like any of that dough to go to the American auto industry so they’ll continue to make cars I won’t buy. And as a consumer I already have access to inexpensive, fuel-efficient vehicles that don’t require subsidies to stay in the market.

        1. Paul Shapiro is the vice president of farm animal protection at The Humane Society of the United States.

          I’d be willing to wager Paul Shapiro could care less if Tofu were subsidized if it meant saving a pig from being a pizza topping.

    2. Come on camping and Wareagle. Nothing says efficiency like government mandates.

      That passage is a good example of why Reason needs to employ actual editors. Some of their writers need some adult supervision in the form of a big red mark and the question “you don’t really mean this? Rewrite something more intelligent”.

    3. Auto bailouts had serious strings that were soon quietly cut.

      I believe the most serious string was that a certain percentage of GMs production was to be in the mainland US.

      About a year ago that string was cut with governmental approval and production was shipped to China.

  9. is this thing on? *tap tap*

    1. anyone else temporarily unable to post?

      1. I’ve been having problems for the last 30 minutes too

      2. Yep. Had to switch machines.

      3. Had that problem last night. Logged out of Reason & then back in which seemed to fix it.

        Although they did have a sitewide issue like this one day last week. I got the first post on PM Links about 30 minutes after they went up.

        Perhaps they need some help *cough cough* Lucy?

  10. Plus, you know, they’re farmers. Centerpiece of a true republican country & all that; “virtue follows the plow.”

    1. So does a zoophile

      1. +1 animal farm

  11. Is it a deep dish pizza?

    1. When I order pizza I make sure to get New York/New Haven style pizza, or pretty much any type of pizza that isn’t deep dish “pizza.” While deep dish tastes good, it isn’t pizza. There are several places within a couple of miles of me, and since I live in Chicago this is saying something.

      I know that this has been discussed many times here, but I always seem to be too late to those parties and wanted to throw my hat into this one.

  12. Hey, they spend trillions on tanks and bombs and welfare and Medicare, why shouldn’t the agriboys get a few bucks? Right? Right?

  13. I’m tellin youse guys, agrib’ness is the last great tax dodge. My Schedule F reads like a novel. With a small herd of show cattle and a half dozen bee hives the returns through grants can be impressive. It would pay one to lease a small acreage and do the same.

    I wont even mention the credits and depletion allowance for timber production/management on shit land. You’re actually paying me to improve the quality of my deer hunting. Oh, and the morels!!!!!!!

    1. There are also massive Section 179 and bonus depreciation deductions for equipment.

      On a more important note, deer hunting and morel mushroom hunting are two of the most joyous things known to man.

    2. ^^THIS^^

      The only thing is that to really make it pay, you need a lot of land. If you are already rich and want to still be a welfare queen, agribusiness may be right for you.

      1. Not sure what you mean by a lot of land. I squat on 320 acres of mostly woods, but you could do the same on 15-20 acres.

  14. The agri subsidies in this country are bizarre. Our health agencies recommend that we don’t eat certain high-fat and high-sugar foods, and try to eat fresh fruits and veggies.

    Our subsidies mainly benefit corn (sugar) and soy (main ingredient for most vegetable oil) while producers of fresh fruits and veggies don’t get very much.

    At the same time, these same agri subsidy bills pour food stamp money into poorer communities, many of which only have access to markets that carry the subsidized corn and soy products.

    I mean, it’s just….odd.

    1. It’s only odd if you recognize the connection. If you see the two issues as unrelated, it’s “we have to help those poor farmers” and “we need to get fat people to lose weight for their own benefit and to reduce medicare/medicaid costs” it makes perfect sense. Most political actors have given zero thought to the connection between cheap corn and American obesity, and if they have, they’re not going to go on a crusade with zero political backing that will lead to them being portrayed as anti-farmer.

  15. After hearing about this, I’m doubt I’m the only one nauseous.

  16. HSUS?


    Cancel my fucking subscription.

    1. Markets and boycotts take too long to effect meaningful change, and when has just a little coercion ever hurt anyone?

  17. Paul Shapiro is the senior director of HSUS’s “factory farming” campaign. Before joining HSUS in 2005, Shapiro worked with the vegan advocacy group Compassion Over Killing (COK) for about 10 years.

    In 1995, Shapiro founded COK as a club while he was still a high school student at Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. While at COK, Shapiro worked as its campaign director to “convert” people to vegetarianism, working alongside Josh Balk and former COK president Miyun Park.

    Shapiro has also volunteered with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). At a PETA protest outside one fast food restaurant, he carried a sign that said “The Meat Industry Equals Systematic Murder,” according to the Washington Post. As of 2003, he admitted to having been arrested a half-dozen times and having had to perform 40 hours of community service. The Post mentioned in a 1998 article that Shapiro, then 19, worked for The Fund for Animals, which later merged with HSUS, and had previously worked for PETA.

    In 2008, Shapiro was inducted into the “U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame.” He is also a former intern with the Washington, DC-based “food police” group the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

    1. Paul Shapiro doesn’t give a flying fuck about ending government subsidies in general. His only examples are $130 million in government purchases of pork and USDA administration of dairy PR/advertising funded by the industry. He is a radical animal rights advocate who wants to ban meat and all traditional human uses of animals.

  18. As a second-generation dairy farmer and chair of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), I want to be clear that the national dairy checkoff program was created by and is funded by America’s dairy farmers and those who bring dairy to your table; there are NO tax dollars involved. DMI helps the dairy industry stay in tune with consumer preferences and the latest nutrition science, which is used to develop healthier choices in dairy foods such as reduced-sugar flavored milk and a variety of cheeses including reduced fat and reduced sodium choices. Dairy farmers across the country are proud that our checkoff program is helping our industry respond to consumer preferences and share the latest nutrition science with them. Through the checkoff program, dairy farmers are helping promote dairy – and promoting the health of Americans.

  19. Paul Shapiro’s “opinion” piece on federal pork purchases was one big fabrication. But what would you expect from a group (HSUS) that raises millions of dollars by showing miserable-looking puppies and kittens then gives less than 1 percent of those funds to shelters that actually help animals.

    Every year, the federal government purchases food for various feeding programs it runs, including school breakfast and lunch programs and ones for the underprivileged. It also must feed about 219,000 federal prisoners and nearly 1.4 million military personnel.

    While it’s true that over the years the feds have bought “surplus” pork, those were expenditures that would have been made for some type of food for those federal feeding programs; they were needed purchases made under an existing (USDA) budget.

    Finally ? to put his propaganda in perspective ? Shapiro singles out pork and dairy, no coincidence given that the vegan HSUS currently is targeting those two industries. (Its goal is less meat and dairy consumption.)

    The federal government does not subsidize America’s hog farmers; it does purchase pork at a great price ? below market value ? to fill federal pantries being used by school kids, the poor, prisoners and our men and women in uniform.

    Apparently, Shapiro and HSUS would rather they all starve — or at least no consume meat and dairy.

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