Monday, October 3, 2011

Apples to Twinkies - An Overview of Misdirected Farm Subsidies

A new report from the US Public Interest Research Group reiterates a point that has been made by organic and sustainable farming advocates for some time - that the obesity problem in the United States is due in large part to a poorly handled farm subsidy system.  The Research Group reports that "between 1995 and 2010, American taxpayers spent over $260 billion in agricultural subsidies. Most subsidies went to the country’s largest farming operations, mainly to grow just a few commodity crops, including corn and soybeans.  While dairy and livestock production also receive some federal support, it is these commodity crops that get the lion’s share of the subsidies.  Most of these commodity crops are not simply eaten as-is.  Among other uses, food manufacturers process them into additives like high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oils that provide a cheap dose of sweetness and fat to a wide variety of junk food products.  Thus, Americans’ tax dollars are directly subsidizing junk food ingredients.  Between 1995 and 2010, $16.9 billion in tax dollars subsidized four common food additives - corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils (which are frequently processed further into hydrogenated vegetable oils). Outside of commodity crops, other agricultural products receive very little in federal subsidies.  Since 1995, taxpayers spent only $262 million subsidizing apples, which is the only significant federal subsidy of fresh fruits or vegetables."  The article then goes on to explain that if the agricultural subsidies went directly to consumers, each American taxpayer would be given $7.36 to spend on junk food and 11 cents to buy apples each year, which is enough to buy 19 Twinkies and only 1/4 of a Red Delicious apple.  With so many American tax dollars wasted, a significant reform to the subsidy system needs to take place.  Access the full report here.

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