Supply and Demand

[hacked]While having enough food that we don’t go hungry is all well and good, there are some down sides to the subsidies. While they encourage farmers to produce large quantities of food, it does nothing to maintain standards with regards to the quality of food. To increase crop yields and therefore increase the amount of the subsidies that they receive, many farmers resort to pesticides and genetic modification [See the ‘Trashing the Environment’ section], often at the cost of the quality of the food they are producing.Using pesticides and genetically modifying foods can potentially harm the environment and undermine the integrity of the soil. By “environment” I don’t just mean the little critters of nature (as Burl Ives would say). First of all, we, the end consumers, injest many of the chemicals on a daily basis. Is this bad for us? Do they pass right through us, doing no harm? I don’t know, but in my book, the fewer chemicals considered poisons passing through my body, the better. Then there are the people who live around the farms utilizing pesticides. Winds and rain runoff can carry the pathogens to surrounding farms, some of whose farmers try to make a point of not using them, affecting both the health of their crops and themselves. Of course, those little critters of nature feel it, too. While some of this is intentional (to get rid of the “pests”), some of it is not (e.g. effect on monarch butterflies).Genetic modification has been used to produce crops that excrete their own insecticides or are resistent to herbicides. While this may sound like a good idea, it does ultimately change the chemical make-up of the plants and therefore is hard to imagine not having an effect on the taste of the food we eat.Raising crops naturally drains the soil of nutrients that future generations of crops require. Usually these nutrients are replenished over time also through natural processes. Some farmers emulate these processes by planting different crops on a given piece of land over the course of serveral season to vary the nutrients the plants use and deposit into the soil. By encouraging farmers to produce “more, more, more”, the demands placed on the fields the farmers use are often too much to sustain the crops naturally, even with crop rotation. It is common for farmers to fertilize the soil by artificial means, usually with nitrogen. Jacking up the soil like this undermines the integrety of the soil and also has an effect on the taste of foods produced in such a manner.Farmers that subscribe to “certified organic” guidelines do not use pesticides or genetic modifications to increase crop yields. They feel that maintaining the quality of the food and the environment is more important. The trade off is that due to the natural processes involved, crop yields are usually smaller. This also means that the farmers get a smaller share of the subsidies from the US goverment and therefore must charge more for their produce in order to make a living.Now, I didn’t really mean this to be a diatribe on why pesticides or genetic modification is a Bad Thing. In fact, I have not really provided much empirical evidence to support those theories. However, I’ve been pondering this for a while and have to ask the question, are we really so hard up that we need to use pesticides on our crops to ensure adequate amounts of food in the food supply? What are our needs? Are the genetic modifications really helping us out? What do we feel would be “adequate” anyway? Has the perceived need for more food affected how the subsidies are doled out, or are there other reasons for the existing policies?I’ve also been thinking about how obesity is on the rise in the US (due to an over-consumption of carbohydrates? less active lifestyles?) and how restaurants seem to be feeding us more and more per serving (when was the last time you actually finished a meal at a sit-down restaurant, let alone do it without feeling stuffed?). Fast food restaurants entice us to “super-size it” or order “biggie” size meals with cheap prices. More is better, right?Why do restaurants serve so much food when we really don’t need very much to get by? The amount of food in one “serving” (i.e. the amount we get in return for ordering the item listed on the menu) is often so large that we are basically paying the restaurant to fix us two meals, thereby guaranteeing themselves more profit than they would have made for just selling one meal’s worth. What we do with the second meal becomes our problem. Eat it then to accomodate the ever larger serving size? Leave it on the plate? Take it home in a doggy bag? Rarely is there an option to purchase a smaller portion. I think if restaurants made the size of thier meals smaller, people would tend to consume less and reduce the demand on farmers to produce “more, more, more” (assuming it would affect the subsidy granting policies).As far as fast food goes, the whole “super-size it” option may seem like a deal, but it can be an unhealthy one, too. If you do eat at a fast food restaurant, try ordering a meal with medium fries and a small Coke (or the equivalent). I’ll bet you won’t go home starving.Anyway, those were just a few of my thoughts that popped into my head a few days after hearing that radio program. In the end, I think it’s worth paying a little more for a modest amount of tasty, naturally grown food than a little less for gobs of the compromised stuff.[Note: Based on all of these sites that I found on the web after I wrote most of this entry, I’m glad to find that other people are thinking about these things, too.]

One thought on “Supply and Demand

  1. I agree with your comment at the end re paying more for organically-produced edibles. I also feel that the farm subsidies often end up in the wrong hands, i.e., the corporate farms.I believe many of the government subsidies are inefficient. They are a way of taking a bit of everyone’s taxes and paying a producer of goods/services to produce or not produce something. That bit of tax $ is part of his income (or all of it, in a few cases). The subsidy can have one or more goals: To offset high costs that would otherwise require higher retail prices; to meddle with market forces by reducing production of certain goods and/or increasing production of others; to compensate producers for low prices due to foreign competition (imports), and there are others. The end result is that low-income folk should be able to buy fairly high quality food. The problem that often occurs, especially in the case of food, is that although the farmer gets the subsidy, the distributor can and does raise the price to the grocer, off-setting the effect of the subsidy. This is especially true for regional crops.Subsidies can also be distributed at the consumer end, i.e., foodstamps. There have been a number of reported abuses of this method.I don’t have a better suggestion, but I believe subsidies should go…they aren’t very efficient, and offer much in the way of opportunity for misuse.This turned out to be longer than I had intended.

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