Taxpayer Subsidies for Junk Food Wasting Billions

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Every Taxpayer Pays for 19 Twinkies and Less Than One Apple Every Year through Agriculture Subsidies

Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Chicago – An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a recent analysis shows that taxpayers overwhelmingly subsidize commodity crops instead of fruits and vegetables—enough for each taxpayer to pay for 19 Twinkies, but only a quarter of an apple every year. The analysis, compiled in a report called Apples to Twinkies, released today by Illinois PIRG Education Fund, highlights the link between how the United States subsidizes food, and the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.

“Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last three decades, with one in five kids aged 6 to 11 now obese,” said Alec Sprague, a Campaign Coordinator with Illinois PIRG Education Fund. “These increases in obesity rates will translate into kids who are at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes, undermining the health of our country and driving up medical costs by hundreds of billions of dollars. So, it’s absurd that junk food is subsidized by taxpayers, while fresh fruits and vegetables barely get a bite at the apple.”

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.  Among other uses, food 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 Sprague.  “At a time when government spending is coming under increasing scrutiny, it’s time for Congress to get its priorities straight.”

Among the report’s 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, which would buy less than a quarter of a Red Delicious apple.

    * In Chicago, taxpayers give $9,247,035 each year in junk food subsidies, while only $143,067 each year for subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy 24,334,303 Twinkies, but only 277,801 apples.