If you're like most Americans, you probably think the primary purpose of the Farm Bill up for congressional authorization this year is to help farmers.
Of course, when it comes to the ways of Washington, nothing is ever that simple.
The 2013 edition of the Farm Bill, which is the main federal legislation for setting U.S. food policy, passed the Senate last week and now moves on to the House.
First crafted during the Great Depression to help struggling farmers, the Farm Bill is renewed and modified every five years. Congress was supposed to renew it last year, but instead merely extended it in deference to the 2012 election.
This year's Farm Bill calls for spending of $955 billion over 10 years and is 1,150 pages long.
And yes, some of that nearly $1 trillion does go to programs that help farmers. But not much of it.
Nearly 80% goes to fund the food stamp program, otherwise known by the more politically correct name of "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" (SNAP) it was given in 2008.
Yet what's most appalling about Farm Bill 2013 is how much it benefits dozens of large U.S. corporations, such as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT), Monsanto Co. (NYSE: MON), Kraft Foods Group Inc. (Nasdaq: KRFT) and Tyson Foods Inc. (NYSE: TSN).
Back in 2008, $173.5 million was spent on lobbying that year's farm bill, most of it by corporations eager to ensure that their subsidy gravy train wouldn't get derailed.
It was the second-most lobbying money ever spent on any U.S. legislation, falling short only of the $250 million spent on Dodd-Frank.
That kind of money buys top-of-the-line lobbying power.
"On the  Farm Bill, special interests hired an army of well-connected lobbyists to press their case with Congress, including 45 former members of Congress, [and] at least 461 former congressional and executive branch staffers (including 86 that worked for former agriculture committee members or the U.S. Department of Agriculture)," noted a report on Farm Bill lobbying by Food & Water Watch.
It's little wonder that Farm Bills are chock full of corporate welfare.
Digging into Farm Bill 2013 — Where the SNAP Money Ends Up
While most Americans who receive SNAP benefits need them to get by, most of that money ends up in the hands of big, profitable corporations.
The Farm Bill 2013 allocates $760.5 billion to the food stamp program, and many corporations have gone to great lengths over the years to ensure their share of that pie is as large as possible.
One of the best examples is the soda industry. The Center for Science in the Public Interest estimated that $4 billion in SNAP money was spent on soda purchases in 2010 (this despite that the primary purpose of SNAP is to make sure low-income people can purchase nutritious food).
That's a significant incentive. And sure enough, two All-American companies – Coca Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) and Pepsi Co, Inc. (NYSE: PEP) — helped get soda eligible for food stamps back in 1964, and continue to spend large sums on making sure it stays that way.
Back in 2008, Coca-Cola spent $513,000 lobbying the Farm Bill; Pepsi spent $437,000.
The fight to keep snacks and sodas on the list of SNAP eligibility is a running battle, and big corporations are definitely winning.
About the Author
David Zeiler, Associate Editor for Money Morning at Money Map Press, has been a journalist for more than 35 years, including 18 spent at The Baltimore Sun. He has worked as a writer, editor, and page designer at different times in his career. He's interviewed a number of well-known personalities - ranging from punk rock icon Joey Ramone to Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Over the course of his journalistic career, Dave has covered many diverse subjects. Since arriving at Money Morning in 2011, he has focused primarily on technology. He's an expert on both Apple and cryptocurrencies. He started writing about Apple for The Sun in the mid-1990s, and had an Apple blog on The Sun's web site from 2007-2009. Dave's been writing about Bitcoin since 2011 - long before most people had even heard of it. He even mined it for a short time.
Dave has a BA in English and Mass Communications from Loyola University Maryland.