Ag Subsidies Pay for 21 Twinkies per Taxpayer, But Only Half of an Apple Apiece

Media Contacts
Jennifer Kim

Taxpayer Subsidies for Junk Food Wasting Billions

NJPIRG Law & Policy Center

PARAMUS – Federal subsidies for commodity crops are subsidizing junk food additives like high fructose corn syrup, enough to pay for 21 Twinkies per taxpayer every year, according to NJPIRG’s new report, Apples to Twinkies 2012. Meanwhile, limited subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy one half of an apple per taxpayer.  The report was released today at the Paramus Farmers Market, at Petruska Park in Paramus.  NJPIRG was joined by Marla Klein, the Partnership Coordinator for the Bergen County Community Health Improvement Partnership.

“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 Gideon Weissman.  “With the Farm Bill about to be reauthorized, it’s time to end this waste.”

Congressman Bill Pascrell released a statement for the release, saying, “I have always believed that the vast amount of taxpayer money we spend each year in this country on agricultural subsidies could be better spent elsewhere.  This report just goes to show that by supporting junk food, farm subsidies can actually damage our health and increase medical costs.  In this current budget situation we need to make tough choices and reprioritize our efforts to create healthy food alternatives.”

Between 1995 and 2011, American taxpayers spent over $277 billion in agricultural subsidies.  The payments are highly concentrated, with 75% of the subsidies going to just 3.8% of farmers, and they mainly support just a few commodity crops, including corn and soybeans.  Among other uses, food manufacturers process corn and soy 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.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Between 1995 and 2011, $18.2 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 $7.58 per taxpayer per year, that would buy each taxpayer 21 Twinkies. 
  • Outside of commodity crops, other agricultural products receive very little in federal subsidies.  Since 1995, taxpayers spent only $637 million subsidizing apples, which is the only significant federal subsidy of fresh fruits or vegetables.  Coming to 27 cents per taxpayer per year, that would buy less than half of one Red Delicious apple. 
  • New Jersey residents’ share of the expense for junk food subsidies is about $30 million each year on average, compared with just $1 million in subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy 82 million Twinkies, but only 2 million 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.

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