Taxpayer Subsidies for Junk Food Wasting Billions
Philadelphia, PA – 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 PennPIRG. 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 Alana Miller, PennPIRG Program Associate. “It’s absurd that junk food is subsidized by taxpayers, while fresh fruits and vegetables barely get a bite at the apple.”
Ryan Kuck, Farming Manager of Greensgrow farm in Philadelphia said, “Subsidies to commodity crops like corn and soy make it nearly impossible for us as small farmers to make healthy food choices available to our customers and neighbors… If our grapes and carrots have to compete with the subsidized price for sugary corn and wheat-based snacks like Twinkies, we cannot afford to operate sustainable businesses that create good jobs and feed our communities.”
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 Miller “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 Philadelphia, taxpayers give $5,234,843 each year in junk food subsidies, while only $80,992 each year for subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy Philadelphia 13,775,902 Twinkies, but only 157,266 apples.
Local urban farming advocate and author, Nic Esposito brought up other problems with the ag subsidies: “Our current agricultural subsidy system has created monoculture crop systems that are severely eroding our arable soil and has given rise to chemical fertilizer and pesticide usage… The way to reverse these trends is to level the playing field for small farmers who employ organic practices and end wasteful subsidies to profitable agribusiness.”
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 on unhealthy food is responsible for a significant portion of this increase.
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Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG) is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization. For more information, visit www.pennpirg.org