State consumer group PennPIRG released a report Wednesday that found that, in the midst of a national obesity epidemic, taxpayer-paid federal subsidies for commodity crops used to manufacture junk food far outweigh those for fresh fruits and vegetables, buying the equivalent of 21 Twinkies per citizen annually, but only half an apple per person in the same period.
“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,” researcher Travis Reynolds said in a statement. “With the Farm Bill about to be reauthorized, it’s time to end this waste.”
According to the report, titled “Apples to Twinkies 2012,” 75 percent of the $277 billion taxpayers spent in agricultural subsidies between 1995 and 2011 went to just 3.8 percent of farmers and mainly supported just a few crops, including corn and soybeans, that are processed into additives like high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oil.
In that 15-year period, $18.2 billion in tax dollars – $7.58 per taxpayer each year – subsidized four additives: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and hydrogenated vegetable oils.
In contrast, taxpayers in the same period spent only $637 million – 27 cents per person each year – subsidizing apples – the only fresh fruit or vegetable that receives a significant federal subsidy.
On a state level, the report found that Pennsylvania residents pay an average of about $11.2 million more each year to subsidize the four “junk food” commodity crops than they do apples – $12,742,886 for the former versus only $1,532,708 for the latter.
The report also notes that childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last 30 years – a fifth of kids between the ages of 6 and 11 are now obese – and that increased snacking is responsible for a “significant portion” of the rise.