According to a recent report published by the California Public Interest Research Group titled "Apples to Twinkies: Comparing Federal Subsidies of Fresh Produce and Junk Food," between 1995 and 2010 nearly $17 billion worth of federal subsidies supported the corn and soy industries—primarily the production of genetically modified high fructose corn syrup and soy oil—ingredients common in junk and fast food items instead of funding healthy fruits, vegetables or whole grains.
Funds allocated for fruits and vegetables during the same time period were considerably less. According to CPIRG, since 1995 only $262 million in taxpayer support subsidized apples, which was the only significant federal subsidy for a fresh fruit or vegetable. Breaking it down, the report states that if instead of sending funds to farm subsidies, Americans were given a direct cut to spend on their own groceries, it would amount to $7.36 for each American to spend on junk food per year versus just $0.11 for apples.
But, the CPIRG report comes just after the Obama administration announced more than $33 billion in agriculture subsidy cuts as part of the new deficit reduction proposal titled, “Living Within Our Means and Investing in the Future.” Obama stated that as much as 50 percent of the cuts would affect farmers earning more than $100,000, which may target the large-scale producers of high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.
Incentives now in place such as the government subsidized National School Lunch Program's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 have made noteworthy nutritional upgrades to school lunches for the first time in more than 15 years, providing more than 32 million students who receive school meals a more well-balanced selection of whole foods and less fried, processed and corn-syrup sweetened items as in years past. "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," cites the CPIRG report. And among the biggest offenders, the high fructose corn syrup industry seems to be feeling the change in America's perception of HFCS as the Corn Refiner's Association recent push to rebrand the product as "corn sugar" has led to warning from the FDA about the misleading claim.
Whether government funds cut as part of the new deficit reduction proposal will be redirected towards healthier foods though, is unclear.
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Image: Jason Anfinsen