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Ag Subsidies Pay for 21 Twinkies per Taxpayer, But Only Half of an Apple Apiece

Taxpayer Subsidies for Junk Food Wasting Billions
For Immediate Release

MASSPIRG’s Deirdre Cummings releases Apples to Twinkies report documenting wasteful tax subsidies for Junk Food. Valicenti Organico table at the Farmers Market in Boston.

Boston,  MA – Federal subsidies for commodity crops are subsidizing junk food additives like high fructose corn syrup, enough to pay for 21 Twinkies per taxpayer every year, according to MASSPIRG’s new report, Apples to Twinkies 2012. Meanwhile, limited subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy one half of an apple per taxpayer.

 “This is ridiculous,”  said MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director, Deirdre Cummings. “First, we are giving taxpayer subsidies to mature, profitable industries while struggling with how to reduce the nation’s record level of debt.  That is bad enough, but in addition, the billions of taxpayer supported subsides are then used to subside junk food—even as our childhood obesity rates are going through the roof. With the Farm Bill about to be reauthorized, it’s time to end this waste.”

“With childhood obesity rates – and health care costs – on the rise, it’s more important than ever that our policies work to improve public health, not detract from it.  Yet, the more we continue to subsidize unhealthy foods, the harder it becomes to fix the American diet and to encourage people to make the right choice,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “Families on a budget shouldn’t have to choose between what’s affordable and what’s healthy.  Now is the time for Congress to realign our nation’s farm policy to support the health of the next generation.”

Between 1995 and 2011, American taxpayers spent over $277 billion in agricultural subsidies.  The payments are highly concentrated, with 75% of the subsidies going to just 3.8% of farmers, and they mainly support just a few commodity crops, such as 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.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Between 1995 and 2011, $18.2 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 $7.58 per taxpayer per year, that would buy each taxpayer 21 Twinkies. 
  • Outside of commodity crops, other agricultural products receive very little in federal subsidies.  Since 1995, taxpayers spent only $637 million subsidizing apples, which is the only significant federal subsidy of fresh fruits or vegetables.  Coming to 27 cents per taxpayer per year, that would buy less than half of one Red Delicious apple. 
  • Massachusetts residents’ share of the expense for junk food subsidies is about $22,636,547 each year on average, compared with just $792,345 in subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy 61million Twinkies, but only 1.6 million apples.

Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last three decades, with one in five kids aged 6 to 11 now obese.  Research shows that increased snacking is responsible for a significant portion of this increase.

Valicenti Organico is a small producer of gourmet ravioli and pasta sauce made using ingredients which we grow on our small farm in Hollis, NH,” said owner David Valicenti. “We source our ingredients directly from small independent farms. These farms struggle every day to make ends meet and compete in a market dominated by massive factory mega farms which enjoy huge profits as well as government subsidies as a result of farm policies which act to cost out the small independent farms. With these subsidies, huge centralized factory farms flood the market with crops grown to make all sorts of processed foods contributing to our nationwide health problems. Tax payers including small businesses like myself are essentially subsidizing junk food and making it difficult to afford local, organically grown and raised healthy food by making it hard for small independent farms to participate in the marketplace.”

“The Farm bill should be fair for the small and mid-size farms that we have here in New England,” said U.S. Representative John Olver of Amherst.  “Nationally, there is an increased demand for healthy, locally-produced food – and our agricultural policy should reflect that trend.”

“For too long this expensive farm bill legislation has worked against the average American’s interests. It has encouraged many of our citizens to dine on genetically modified and sugary foods and has concentrated wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer big corporate farms. Small and organic farmers get very little from the US farm bill,” said Jack Kittredge, NOFA/Mass Policy Director and owner of Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, Massachusetts. “A good farm bill would level, not tilt, the rural playing field. More and more Americans are turning to small and organic farms for healthy food raised by people they trust. We need a farm policy that respects this choice rather than discouraging farmers from raising vegetables, fruit, or free-range meat.”

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MASSPIRG  is a non-profit, non-partisan member supported  public interest organization. Visit us at MASSPIRG.org

Valicenti Organico is a small producer of gourmet ravioli and pasta sauce made using locally grown ingredients and participated in the Farmers Market in Boston

 NOFA/Mass is the Massachusetts Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association organized to promote healthy and sustainable farming.  Visit us at NOFAMASS.org

Many Hands Organic Farm, runs a 130 family CSA, markets vegetables and fruit to stores and retreat centers throughout Central Massachusetts, and sells eggs, poultry, pork and beef. Website is www.mhof.net

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