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Baltimore, MD – 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 Maryland PIRG’s new report, Apples to Twinkies 2012. Meanwhile, limited subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy one half of an apple per taxpayer.
“At a time when childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing, it’s absurd that we’re spending billions of taxpayer dollars to make the problem worse,” said Jenny Levin, Maryland PIRG State Advocate. “With the Farm Bill about to be reauthorized, it’s time to end this waste.”
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, including 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.
- Maryland residents’ share of the expense for junk food subsidies is about $20 million each year on average, compared with just $700,000 in subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy 54 million Twinkies, but only 1 million apples.
- Baltimore City residents’ share of the expense for junk food subsidies is about $2 million each year on average, compared with just $74,000 in subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy 5 million Twinkies, but only 153,500 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.
Becky Wagner, Executive Director of Advocates for Children and Youth, reflected “Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases. We support policies that encourage good nutrition and healthy kids. The consumption of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet is at the heart of staying healthy, reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.”
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Maryland PIRG, the Maryland State Public Interest Research Group, is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest organization. Visit us at marylandpirg.org.
ACY's mission is-to identify problems, promote policies and programs that improve results for Maryland's children in measurable and meaningful ways, and evaluate the effectiveness of programs and policies for the state's children and youth. Visit them at acy.org.
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