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TRENTON– 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 NJPIRG's new report, “Apples to Twinkies 2013: Comparing Taxpayer Subsidies for Fresh Produce and Junk Food.” 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 Jen Coleman, NJPIRG Advocate.
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. And they mainly support just 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.
"With cases of obesity increasing at alarming rates in our country, especially among our children, it's long overdue for us to rethink how our tax dollars are spent on agricultural subsidies. We should be focusing on providing healthy alternatives and not jeopardizing the wellbeing of our communities by spending billions of dollars subsidizing junk food,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ).
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.
New Jersey residents’ share of the expense for junk food subsidies is about $30,121,503 each year on average, compared with just $1,080,923 in subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy 9 Twinkies, but only 0.23 of an 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 Coleman. “With the Farm Bill before Congress, it’s time to end this waste.”
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