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Federal subsidies for commodity crops are subsidizing junk food additives like high fructose corn syrup, enough to pay for 21 Twinkies per Arizona taxpayer every year, according to Apples to Twinkies, a new report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. Meanwhile, limited subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables buy one-half of an apple per taxpayer.
“At a time when childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing in Arizona, it’s absurd that we’re spending billions of taxpayer dollars to make the problem worse,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG). “With the Farm Bill about to be reauthorized, it’s time to end wasteful subsidies for junk food ingredients.”
Between 1995 and 2011, American taxpayers spent over $277 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,” continued Unrein. “At a time when government spending is coming under increasing scrutiny, it’s time for Congress to get its priorities straight and not subsidize junk food.”
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.
- Arizona taxpayers’ share of the expense for junk food subsidies is $22,275,632, compared with $779,712 each year for subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy more than 60 million Twinkies, but only 1.6 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.
“When more than 30 percent of Arizona’s children are obese, it’s unconscionable for our tax dollars to continue to subsidize junk food,” said Unrein. “For the health of our country and our children in particular, Congress needs to stop subsidizing these crops that contribute to obesity.”
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