While Congress struggles to push a Farm Bill through before the critical legislation expires, a new report by the California Public Interest Group (CALPIRG) highlights an underdiscussed problem with the way the law has been structured in the past: it’s making us unhealthy. CALPIRG researchers found that the crop subsidies in the Farm Bill overwhelmingly went to ingredients that fuel the junk food industry rather than fresh fruits and vegetables. As a result, the subsidies artificially driving down prices for the very foodstuffs fueling the nation’s obesity crisis:
Between 1995 and 2011, $18.2 billion in tax dollars subsidized four common junk food additives—corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils (which are processed further into hydrogenated vegetable oils). Healthier agricultural products receive very little in federal subsidies. Since 1995, taxpayers spent only $637 million subsidizing apples, which is one of the few fresh fruits or vegetables that have a significant federal subsidy. If subsidies for junk food ingredients went directly to taxpayers to allow them to purchase food, each of America’s 141 million taxpayers would receive $7.58 to spend on junk food and 27 cents to spend on apples each year—enough to buy 21 Twinkies but just half of one Red Delicious apple.
These numbers are particularly alarming in light of growing obesity rates. Since 1995, CALPIRG found that “childhood obesity had tripled…one in five kids aged 6 to 11 [is] now obese” and that “projections suggest that by 2030, half of Americans will be obese.” Further, the U.S. already spends $150 billion a year on “obesity and comorbidities,” a price tag that CALPIRG found would increase by an additional $66 billion per year if estimates about obesity rates were accurate. This obesity crisis disproportionately affects impoverished Americans largely because unhealthy food is so much cheaper and accessible than healthy alternatives. Americans are also significantly more obese on average than citizens of other developed nations.
Though some proposals for this year’s Farm Bill involve cutting the subsidies for soy and corn that CALPIRG highlights, they’re generating significant factional conflict between Republicans on the Hill. This fight is one of the key drivers behind the unprecedented inability to get this year’s Farm Bill through.