Taxpayer Subsidies for Junk Food Wasting Billions

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Austin Price


San Francisco, CA–  Federal subsidies for commodity crops are also subsidizing junk food additives like high fructose corn syrup, enough to pay for 19 Twinkies per taxpayer per year, according to Apples to Twinkies, a new report by CALPIRG.  Meanwhile, limited subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy less than a quarter of an apple per taxpayer. 

“At a time when childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing, it’s absurd that we’re spending billions of taxpayer dollars to make the problem worse,” said Austin Price, Health Care Associate with CALPIRG.  “It’s absurd that the junk food is subsidized by taxpayers, while fresh fruits and vegetables barely get a bit at the apple.” 

Between 1995 and 2010, American taxpayers spendt 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.  Among other uses, food and manufacturers process these crops 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. 

“Shoveling cash at commodity crops also means we’re subsidizing these unhealthy additives, too” continued Price.  “At a time when government spending is coming under increasing scrutiny, it’s time for Congress to get its priorities straight.”  

Among the reports key findings: 

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 (better known as hydrogenated vegetable oils).  At $7.36 per taxpayer per year that would buy each taxpayer 19 Twinkies. 

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.  Coming to 11 cents per taxpayer per year, that would buy less than a quarter of a Red Delicious apple. 

In San Francisco, taxpayers give $2,762,295 each year in junk food subsidies, while only $41,950 each year for subsidies for apples.  That’s enough to buy 7,406,504 Twinkies but only 84,553 apples. 

Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last three decades, with one in five kids aged 6 to 11 now obese.  Research shows that increased snacking is responsible for a significant portion of this increase. 


The California Public Interest Research Group  (CALPIRG) is a result-oriented public interest group that protects consumers, encourages a fair sustainable economy, and fosters responsive democratic governance.