Each year when Americans pay their taxes, part of that money feeds into subsidies for junk food ingredients; and hardly any of it goes toward fresh produce, according to a new report.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Wednesday released “Apples to Twinkies,” a review of agricultural subsidies that shows that since 1995, approximately 16.9 billion dollars in taxpayer money have gone toward supplementing four of the country’s most common food additives – corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils.
These products are used almost exclusively to make junk foods such as chips, candy or soft drinks, or to change the consistency or flavor of staple foods.
“The ingredients that we focused on are really empty calories. They’re just added into foods to add calories, fat, or sweetness, without any nutritional value,” explained Mike Russo, Policy Analyst for US PIRG and lead author of the report.
Conversely, produce such as oranges or spinach receive no regular federal funding, with the exception of apples – on which the government spent about .01 percent of its agricultural subsidy money between 1995 and 2010.
At a time when obesity is becoming a rising concern in American, with 1 in 5 children ages 6 to 11 now obese, US PIRG says spending that makes junk foods cheaper to produce is a waste of government money, and should be curbed.
According to the report, 13 billion of the 181.1 billion bushels of corn sold since 1995 were used to make corn sweetener, and 4.3 billion bushels turned into corn starch. This means that of the money spent on corn by the government over these years, 9.7 percent of the money contributed directly to food additives. That’s $7.5 billion of the 77.1 billion taxpayer dollars spent on corn.
As for subsidies for soy bean oil, that number is an even greater 9.44 billion dollars. Soybean oil makes up around two thirds of all edible oils eaten in the United States, and is commonly used to make hydrogenated oils and other junk food additives.
That’s opposed to the 262 million dollars spent on apples over that same time period.
Not only would cutting off this lifeline to commodity crops reduce companies’ ability to produce junk food, but it would also put a dent in future costs to society arising from health problems associated with obesity, says the organization.
“By fueling the crisis of childhood obesity, the subsidies damage our country’s health and increase the medical costs that will ultimately need to be paid to treat the effects of the obesity epidemic,” Russo told Food Safety News.
Viewed in another light, if the money spent on agricultural products were to go directly to consumers, it would translate into a little over $7 per person to spend on junk food, and 11 cents to spend on apples, and a negligible amount on other fresh produce such as spinach or oranges, foods that can be prohibitively expensive.
These findings were released Wednesday, just two days after President Obama revealed his 2012 budget plan, which includes a proposed 22 percent cut to agricultural spending and an end to direct payment to farmers, which comprises $5 billion per year in payment to farmers.
The administration deemed these direct payments “unnecessary,” because more than half of farmers receiving such benefits make over $100,000 a year.
According to US PIRG, agribusinesses take in the lion’s share of current government allotments for agriculture. “Roughly 74 percent of subsidies go to four percent of U.S. farmers,” says the report.
“We’re focusing in on the fact that there are these wasteful taxpayer subsidies going to junk food and to an industry that frankly doesn’t really need them, to these giant agribusinesses,” says Russo.
Russo says US PIRG’s message about agricultural spending is having an impact on consumers.
“People are pretty outraged when we tell them about where their tax dollars are going. It really does seem completely perverse.”© Food Safety News