A National Outrage: Our Tax Dollars Subsidize Foods that make us Fat and Unhealthy
by Tony Isaacs
At the same time that our Surgeon General has declared we have an epidemic of obesity, our government is using our tax dollars to cater to special interest and subsidizing the very foods that are making us fat. Thanks to lobbying, Congress chooses to subsidize foods that we’re supposed to eat less of.
Take a look at these numbers which tell the how the percentage of federal food subsidies spending is allocated:
Just 2.3 percent of subsidies go to nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables while 84.5% goes to meat, dairy, sugar, oil, starch and alcohol. Is it any wonder that a salad often costs you more than a Big Mac?
The average 18-year-old today is 15 pounds heavier than the average 18 year-old in the late 1970s. The average woman in her 60s is 20 pounds heavier than in the late 1970s and the average 60s man is 25 pounds heavier.
With the exceptions of cookies, unhealthful foods have gotten a lot cheaper relative to everything else in the economy. Sodas are 33 percent cheaper than they were in 1978. Butter is 29 percent cheaper and beer is 15 percent cheaper.
Fish, by contrast, is 2 percent more expensive. Vegetables are 41 percent more expensive. Fruits are 46 percent more expensive. The price of oranges has more than doubled. In 1978 a bag of oranges cost the same as one big bottle of soda. Today that bag costs the same as three big bottles of soda.
Of course, there are surely other reasons why unhealthful foods are cheaper than healthful ones, but whatever the causes, healthful foods have gotten much more expensive relative to unhealthful ones.
A University of Washington study determined that a dollar buys 1200 calories of cookies or chips but only 250 calories of carrots. For example, a package of Twinkies costs less than a bag of carrots. Compared to carrots Twinkies are highly complicated. Like most processed foods, they are basically an arrangement of carbohydrates and fats from corn, soybeans and wheat — three of the five crops the farm bill supports to the tune of $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.)
For the last several decades, U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy. Soy, corn and wheat are also three of the most genetically modified crops in existence.
How is it that a pair of synthetic cream-filled pseudo-cakes cost less than a bag of carrots? Look no farther than the farm bill. Despite an early pledge to cut Big Ag subsidies, Obama caved to special interests and the bill as written provides billions of dollars in subsidies, much of which goes to huge agribusinesses producing feed crops, such as corn and soy, which are then fed to animals. By funding these crops, the government supports the production of meat and dairy products – the same products which contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease.
The farm bill also sets the rules for the American food system and governs what children are fed in schools, as well as what foods assistance programs can distribute. As currently written, the farm bill offers a lot more support to Twinkies than carrots.
Our tax dollars are also used to purchase surplus foods like cheese, milk, pork and beef for distribution to food assistance programs - including school lunches. The government is not required to purchase nutritious foods.