NEWS RELEASE: Apples to Twinkies Report Released on Big Ag Subsidies

Ag Subsidies Pay for 20 Twinkies per Taxpayer, But Only Half of an Apple Apiece

One Billion Tax Dollars per Year Subsidize Junk Food Ingredients, Fuel Obesity Epidemic

Montpelier, VT – 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 American taxpayer every year, according to USPIRG’s new report, “Apples to Twinkies 2013.” Meanwhile, the limited subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy just 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, though other unrelated provisions make the Senate legislation a better starting point than the House bill.

“Our food policy has become so distorted that we’re actually using tax dollars to subsidize junk food,” said Paul Burns, Executive Director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). “With the negotiations continuing in order to try to get a Farm Bill passed this year, it’s critical for Congress to put an end this waste.”

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. Here in Vermont, 4 out of 5 farms don’t see a dime.

The subsidies go mainly to 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.

“At a time when childhood obesity rates are sky-high, it’s absurd that we’re spending any taxpayer money on junk food, let alone billions of dollars,” added Burns. “I think that most Vermonters would be outraged to learn that their tax dollars are being given as a government handout to giant agribusinesses that already reap enormous profits.”

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Between 1995 and 2012, more than $19 billion in federal taxes 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.
  • Vermont residents’ share of the expense for junk food subsidies is about $2,127,159 each year on average, compared with just $76,334 in subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy 5,749,078 Twinkies, but only 144,709 apples.

Members of Vermont’s federal delegation have been champions in trying to get a reasonable Farm Bill reauthorized this year.

“We recognize that Senators Leahy and Sanders and Congressman Welch face difficult odds in trying to build support for a sensible Farm Bill and we applaud their efforts,” said Burns. “As they work to forge compromise across a partisan divide, we urge them to seek an end to these wasteful subsidies – something on which people of all political stripes seem to agree.”

A link to the full report can be found here.

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