U.S. Republican Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, M.D., has just released his "Waste Book 2012" report. It is 131 pages demonstrating waste of your taxpayer money by federal agencies and departments.
Coburn identifies 100 projects – many of them from USDA – costing over $18 billion.
As you read his report or this column, you have to wonder how bad the judgment is of many federal bureaucrats in USDA.
USDA is spending $300,000 to promote caviar. Fish Processors of Idaho was given a $300,000 grant to create a website, print fliers and send the company's owner to trade shows. The company in 2012 brought in $150,000 in revenue and will produce approximately 300 pounds of caviar annually.
NASA is spending $947,000 to develop a recipe for pizza and 100 other foods that might be served some day on Mars. NASA spends about a million dollars "researching and building the Mars menu." NASA is attempting to determine the best food options for long term travel. The astronauts now have over 100 different food options for space travel.
Another USDA giveaway is to Pepsico, Inc., which earned $66 billion in revenue in 2012. USDA is helping Pepsico build a new Greek yogurt factory in New York State. Some of the new yogurt flavors are "Choco Balls" and "Chocolate Flakes." USDA is doing this even though there are 29 yogurt plants presently in New York State producing 530 million pounds of yogurt. Nationwide, yogurt sales generate approximately $7 billion. Sen. Coburn says, "Pepsico clearly does not need handouts from the government to subsidize its private business."
In 2012, vineyards and wineries in the U.S. received approximately $1.5 million federal taxpayer dollars. One vineyard in Belle Fourche, S.D., received $300,000 to expand its product line.
Another vineyard, Olde Chautauqua Vineyards of Portland, NY, received $299,999 of your tax dollars to assist with production and marketing of a new winery. Maryland also had a vineyard in Davidsonville which received $299,974 to start a winery on an old farm. Clearly these vineyards' wine glasses overflowed with your money!
Even potato chips were subsidized when the USDA awarded $50,000 to help New York's Martin Sidor Farms. The chips apparently are doing quite well according to Sen. Coburn and have received "…several rave reviews from celebrities." Notwithstanding the popularity of chips, USDA gave the company your money.
USDA officials even awarded Cooper Tire and Rubber Company approximately $7 million for the development of a natural rubber. The substance in question is guayule (pronounced why-you-lee). This plant is native to Mexico and American Southwest and has a long history as a natural rubber alternative. Sen. Coburn says this USDA grant is subsidizing research already occurring in the private sector. He is correct. The company website says it sold $31 billion in tires last year and in September of this year it opened a 10 acre manufacturing facility in Mesa, Ariz., to process guayule.
Moreover, research on guayule has been going on for more than a century and particularly during World War II and during the 1970s oil crisis. USDA should be ashamed of itself for funding this type of project.
I have to end on a high note. Sen. Coburn's report claims Americans bought approximately $20 billion in liquor in 2012 from the private sector. Notwithstanding this fact, USDA awarded $99,000 to the Clayton Distillery Company in New York. The company will buy a copper still and a stainless steel vodka column. The new distillery will make vodka, gin, white whiskey and maple liquors.
The report claims competitors in the area believe that USDA is giving the new company "…an unfair advantage over its competitors." The competitor, Dark Island Spirits, is quoted in the report as saying "I think [the Clayton Distillery] should pay a fair market value for the equipment they obtain so that we aren't at a competitive disadvantage."
Sen. Coburn claims in his report, "Taxpayer funds should not be used to advantage one company over another nor should they be used to subsidize an industry that already enjoys wide market appeal."
Think about this waste when you next visit your USDA office in your county. Ask for the caviar.
Gary H. Baise is a principal at OFW Law (Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz P.C.). This article first appeared in Farm Futures magazine. The opinions presented here are expressly those of the author. For more information, go to www.OFWlaw.com.