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SAINT LOUIS, MO –The Missouri Public Interest Research Group (MoPIRG) show in a new report Apples to Twinkies, how taxpayers have been subsidizing junk food additives, like high fructose corn syrup, for decades. Federal subsidies for commodity crops have flooded markets with cheap, nutritionally empty junk food. These subsidies are enough to pay for 19 Twinkies per taxpayer every year. Meanwhile, subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables buy less than a quarter of an apple per taxpayer per year.
“As childhood obesity rates continue to skyrocket, it’s ridiculous to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to make the problem worse,” said Brian Córdova, Program Associate with MoPIRG. “It’s even more absurd that junk food is subsidized by taxpayers, while fresh fruits and vegetables barely get a bite at the apple.”
Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last three decades, with one in five kids aged 6 to 11 now obese. Dr. Samuel Klein, Danforth Professor of Medicine and Nutritional Science at Washington University in St. Louis and the Director of its Center for Human Nutrition, pointed out that the cause of obesity is multifactorial in nature, with factors ranging from genetics to environment, to social structure contribute to excessive calorie consumption and reduced physical activity.
“The factors that regulate food intake are complex and involve many different levels of input, including food marketing and cost, as well as individual lifestyle and genetics. Therefore, effective approaches to prevent or treat obesity will need to address multiple factors simultaneously, from a public policy, community, worksite, school system and individual perspective,” Dr. Klein said. “Agriculture subsidies that reduce the cost of processed foods that are high in calories because of high fructose corn syrup provide an economic incentive for consumers to purchase and consume these foods.”
Between 1995 and 2010, American taxpayers spent over $260 billion in agricultural subsidies, 74% of which went to the country’s largest farming operations—or about 4% of all farms. They were paid to grow mainly 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.
“Taxpayers pay for the privilege of ambushing our kids with empty calories from federally subsidized sweeteners,” said Dr. Gary Miller, Political Scientist at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in the politics of organizations, committees, and small-group decision-making. “There is no longer a need, if there ever was, for the federal government to subsidize our largest agricultural commodity producers."
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, subsidies 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 for fresh fruits or vegetables. Coming to 11 cents per taxpayer per year, subsides would buy less than a quarter of a Red Delicious apple.
· In Kansas City, taxpayers give $1,577,263 each year in junk food subsidies, while only $24,403 each year for subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy KC taxpayers 4,150,692 Twinkies, but only 47,384 apples.
“Shoveling cash at commodity crops translates into subsidizing unhealthy additives,” Córdova said. “With the need to reign in government spending, it’s time for Congress to get its priorities straight.”
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