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Federal subsidies for commodity crops are subsidizing junk food additives like high-fructose corn syrup at a rate that would buy 20 Twinkies for each taxpayer every year, according to PennPIRG's new report, "Apples to Twinkies 2013." Meanwhile, subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy just one half of an apple per taxpayer per year.
These subsidies are part of the Farm Bill that expires in September. Both the Farm Bill approved by the U.S. Senate and the one that passed the House last Thursday would continue these subsidies.
"Our food policy has become so distorted that we're actually using tax dollars to subsidize junk food, but this problem has been ignored in the debate over the Farm Bill. Congress needs to either make serious changes to this legislation or reject it entirely," said Dan Smith, Tax and Budget Advocate for PennPIRG and report co-author.
Between 1995 and 2012, American taxpayers spent more than $290 billion in agricultural subsidies. The payments are highly concentrated, with 75 percent of the subsidies going to just 3.8 percent of farmers. The subsidies 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 oil that provide a cheap dose of sweetness and fat to a wide variety of junk food products.
"I am disappointed that our current food system gives large subsidies to junk food ingredients while my family's fresh edamame soybeans and native American flint corn used for cornmeal and baking get barely any subsidies," said Sophia Maravell, the Education Director of Brickyard Educational Farm in Potomac, Maryland, and daughter of a small organic farmer who grows corn and soy.
Among the report's key findings:
Between 1995 and 2012, more than $19 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 $7.30 per taxpayer per year, that would buy each taxpayer 20 Twinkies.
Outside of commodity crops, other agricultural products received very little in federal subsidies. Since 1995, taxpayers spent only $689 million subsidizing apples, which is the only significant federal subsidy of fresh fruits or vegetables. Coming to 26 cents per taxpayer per year, that would buy less than half of one Red Delicious apple.
"At a time when childhood obesity rates are sky-high, it's absurd that we're spending even one cent of taxpayer money on junk food, let alone billions," added Smith. "With the Farm Bill before Congress, it's time to end this waste."
"Our tax dollars shouldn't benefit large corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill, and they shouldn't encourage farmers to grow specific varieties of corn and soy that get used for junk food additives that contribute to our nation's high obesity rates," added Maravell.
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