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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 a new report from the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG), “Apples to Twinkies 2013.” Meanwhile, limited subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy one half of an apple per taxpayer.
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 Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for Arizona PIRG.
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 a few commodity crops, like 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.
“At a time when childhood obesity rates are sky-high, it’s absurd that we are spending even one cent of taxpayer money on junk food, let alone billions,” added Unrein. “With the Farm Bill before Congress, it’s time to end these wasteful subsidies.”
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, cornstarch, 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.
- Phoenix residents’ share of the expense for junk food subsidies is about $5,058,710 each year on average, compared with just $181,534 in subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy more than 13 million Twinkies, but less than 350,000 apples.
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