In this recent Big Think video, The colossal problem with universal basic income, the presenter, Douglas Rushkoff, made a claim, at about the 40 second mark, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture burns food every week.

The US Department of Agriculture burns food every week in order to keep the prices of that food high

I couldn't find anything confirming or denying this claim upon reviewing it through an internet search.

Is food burnt this way, and does the reason given match the one in the claim?

  • 7
    I don't know about destroying food regularly, but it's been done in the past. Regularly, they instead favor paying farmers to not farm, so they never make the food. A good portion of subsidies from the USDA are designed to control pricing. You must remember that the USDA mission is to protect and define agricultural industry. They are not a consumer protection agency, like the BBB or others.
    – user11643
    Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 14:44
  • 3
    This, or equivalents, are common practice in most industrialized parts of the world Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 14:59
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    Very similar question, with the main difference being what was destroyed, and how it was destroyed: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/16971/…
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 23:35
  • @AndrewGrimm I was close to vtc as duplicate, except this question asks specifically about the usda and a specific frequency. The answers at the other question don't attempt to answer that.
    – user11643
    Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


It's impossible to disprove every false statement by finding a source that explicitly refutes it.

But here's how USDA food "destruction" proceeds, from a recent example:

Iconic product of North America, present on all the tables for Thanksgiving, the production of cranberries has had an important growth after a serious health crisis at the end of the 1950s. Already confronted with important stocks, producers organized within the Cranberry Marketing Committee (CMC) since in 1962, have sought the approval of the Federal Administration (USDA) to ban the marketing of 25% of this year’s abundant crop. This surplus must be given, composted or used for non-commercial purposes. [...]

For cranberries, storage was used four times between 1962 and 1971, as well as more recently in 2017. As for marketing quotas, they had not been used since 2000 and 2001. In 2014 a request was submitted by the CMC to use marketing quotas, but the USDA was opposed to it, because they suspected an illegal coordination with Canadian producers.


As Claire Brown points out in her article in New Food Economy, it may seem unsatisfactory to stick to marketing quotas, a source of considerable waste, rather than seeking to act directly on production through production quotas.

But it must be said that the variability of yields, which is very important, for most fruits and vegetables can justify acting on supply once the harvest has been completed.

So yes, overproduction is sometimes controlled after the fact, possibly including destruction. But it depends on the circumstances, it's not a regular thing.

Sector associations like the CMC are allowed (and regulated) under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937. There was actually a recent Supreme Court case involving a farmer's refusal to comply with a storage (not destruction) order. And the USDA lost.

  • "This surplus must be given, composted or used for non-commercial purposes." Does this mean that the food isn't necessarily burned? Even if it's prohibited from being sold, is donation viable?
    – David G.
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 17:16
  • @DavidG. it could be used as animal fodder, fertiliser, and I guess donated to charity (say the Red Cross or Salvation Army) for feeding the poor. It cannot be sold as food stuff, so as to prevent the price of the berries sold as food from collapsing.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 5:09

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