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USDA subsidizes advertising for almonds, wine tours in California and organic pet shampoo

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn released a report yesterday exposing inefficiency and waste  in the USDA’s Market Access Program (MAP), which has spent $2.1 billion since 1999 on subsidies for profitable agriculture companies and trade associations that do business overseas.

While the USDA describes MAP as a benefit to “all regions of the country through increased exports and rural job expansion,” Coburn told The Washington Times that the program is unnecessary and inefficient.

“At a time when we are cutting funding for our troops, taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the filming of Reality-TV shows in India, wine tastings for foreign journalists, pet food advertising, and even to advertise pet shampoo anymore,” Coburn said. “We need to make tough choices.”

According to the USDA, MAP subsidies are supposed to help “non-profit U.S. agricultural trade associations, non-profit U.S. agricultural cooperatives, non-profit state-regional trade groups, [and] small U.S. businesses,” but several large and flourishing companies have benefited from the program’s funds.

Blue Diamond Growers, for example, has seen $3.3 billion in reported sales over the last five years. And Blue Diamond’s website claims that the company’s almond products brand, available in 93 percent of American grocery stores, is the most dominant in the United States.

Even though its annual sales are three times larger than MAP’s entire annual budget, Blue Diamond Growers has received $28.2 million from taxpayers since 1999 to fund overseas marketing of its almonds.

One of the single largest recipients of MAP funds, California’s Wine Institute, has used portions of the $60 million it received over the past decade to fund trips to London, Denmark and Dublin for various wine festivals and tastings.

MAP also helped fund the promotion of Espree Animal Products, a Texas-based company that sells organic and natural hair care products for pets in 16 different countries.  MAP funding aided in advertising products such as Freeze! Hair Hold (a hair spray for dogs), Candy Cane Sparkle Spray (which leaves the coat with specks of shiny glitter and aroma of Candy Cane), and a line of pet facial cleansers (Aloe Oat, Plum Perfect, Rainforest).

“Many Americans might respond with disbelief that we are paying for private companies to market their products in the first place,” Coburn wrote in a statement. “That we are doing so overseas is even more troubling.”

However, defenders of MAP have remarked that the program does have its benefits.

“We are doing an excellent job of ensuring that there is a return,” USDA spokesperson Matt Herrick said in an interview with Fox News. “For every one dollar that the federal government invests, there is a 35-dollar return in private economic activity.”

Nevertheless, Coburn has filed an amendment to 2012 Farm Bill that would substantially reduce funding for subsidies provided by MAP.

More than 250 amendments to the Farm Bill have been filed so far, and debates will continue into next week.

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