Andrea Freeman


The 2014 Farm Bill ushered in some significant and surprising changes. One of these was that it rendered the identity of all the recipients of farm subsidies secret. Representative Larry Combest, who is now a lobbyist for agribusiness, first introduced a secrecy provision into the bill in 2000. The provision, however, only applied to subsidies made in the form of crop insurance. Until 2014, the majority of subsidies were direct payments and the identity of the people who received them was public information. In fact, the Environmental Working Group’s release of the list of recipients led to a series of scandals because it featured celebrities Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Carter, members of the House and Senate, and a considerable number of billionaires, including founders of high-profile companies such as Microsoft and Charles Schwab. The resulting outcry against the corruption represented by these payments increased support for the elimination of direct payments. The Bill consequently replaced these payments with two new crop insurance programs, thereby extinguishing public access to the list of farm subsidy recipients. This move was particularly disturbing in an era where transparency in the food system is commonly viewed as desirable and even necessary. Another dramatic aspect of the Bill was that it cut $8 billion from the food stamp program, affecting approximately 1.7 million people. What it did not do, however, is alter the allocation of agricultural subsidies that has been in place since the Bill’s first incarnation in 1933. This is surprising in light of evolving medical insights into nutrition and shifting national health priorities. This resistance to change suggests that health and nutrition are not driving the Farm Bill. Instead, it appears that large agribusiness has succeeded in capturing the majority of resources allocated to farm support. Although farm subsidies comprise only 14% of the Farm Bill, they are highly controversial because, not only do they determine which agricultural industries are likely to thrive and survive, they guide the nation’s consumption patterns. The health of farmers and individuals are therefore both at stake in each Farm Bill.