Billions In Farm Subsidies Underwrite Junk Food, Study Finds
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It's a well known fact that most farm subsidies go to crops, like feed corn, that aren't exactly healthy. They're crops that are easy to grown en masse and in the heartland. But a new study from the US Public Interest Research Group, called "Apples To Twinkies," shows just how unhealthy most subsidized food is. According to the report, the vast majority of produce subsidized by the USDA ends up in junk food.
According to the study, a whopping $17 billion of the total $260 billion the government spent subsidizing agriculture went to just four common food addititives: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils. By comparison, the government spent just $261 million subsidizing apples, and far less still supporting fruits and vegetables, like spinach, broccoli and blueberries, that public health experts say encourage better health. To put things in perspective, the PIRG study said that, if the government had given taxpayers the subsidies instead of the farmers, each one would have been given $7.36 to spend on junk food and just 11 cents to spend on apples a year. This is a key factor that makes junk food more expensive than healthy food -- and, by extension, that makes many Americans obese.
It's possible, though, that the era of huge farm subsidies may be coming to a close. Food Safety News notes that Obama called for a massive cut to farm subsidies for the 2012 budget. The cuts were proposed as a part of his deficit reduction plan -- but this new study shows how far subsidy changes could go towards cutting obesity rates as well. Mark Bittman, for his part, has repeatedly called for farm subsidy reform rather than elimination, in the hopes that the government will make it easier for Americans to afford healthy food.
The Environmental Working Group has put together an excellent primer on farm subsidies, with lots of fine-grained data on where they went. Using some of its data, we've assembled a list of the 14 most-subsidized crops in the years between 1995 and 2010; click through below to find out who got the most, and which of them end up in junk food.