Ag Subsidies Pay for 19 Twinkies per Taxpayer, But Only a Quarter of an Apple Apiece

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Gary Kalman

Taxpayer Subsidies for Junk Food Wasting Billions

Ohio PIRG Education Fund

Columbus, OH – Federal subsidies for commodity crops are also subsidizing junk food additives like high fructose corn syrup, enough to pay for 19 Twinkies per taxpayer every year, according to Apples to Twinkies, a new report by Ohio PIRG.   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 Ohio PIRG’s Jacqueline Thomas.  “It’s absurd that junk food is subsidized by taxpayers, while fresh fruits and vegetables barely get a bite at the apple.”

Snowville Creamery’s Warren Taylor agrees.  “Government policies must progress America toward the sustainable production of healthful food for the benefit of farmers and consumers; these policies should not be subsidizing junk food.”

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.  

“I am a parent of two daughters and I would like my money to be spent on foods that will help them to grow into healthy individuals; not on products that contribute to the national health problem of obesity,” said local mom Cindy Gunn.  “I don’t want to subsidize Twinkies!”

“Shoveling cash at commodity crops also means we’re subsidizing these unhealthy additives, too,” continued Thomas.  “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, that would buy less than a quarter of a Red Delicious apple.  

•    In Columbus, taxpayers give $2,699,854 each year in junk food subsidies, while only $41,771 each year for subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy 7,104,880 Twinkies, but only 81,109 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.

“This report underscores how critical it is for parents to set a good example for young people by passing the junk food isle at the store,” said Councilmember Hearcel F. Craig, chair of the Health, Housing and Human Services committee for the Columbus City Council.  “We need to do a better job of buying foods that will allow our children to grow up strong and healthy so they do not have to suffer the many long term side effects of an unhealthy diet, such as heart disease and diabetes.”