Subsidies Report Reveals Millions Spent On Junk Food, Much Less On Organic Foods

New Jersey Public Interest Research Groups will release a report Wednesday at the Paramus Farmers Market depicting how tax payer monies are supporting federal subsidies for junk foodadditives while contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic.

This week, while New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempts to finalize a ban on the sale of over-sized sweetened drinks, on Wednesday, a Trenton-based consumer group will visit the Paramus Farmers Market to highlight billions in taxpayer agricultural subsidies that end up supporting junk food.

New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) selected the Paramus Farmer Market as the location to release the report due to its proximity to NJPIRG’s Ridgewood office and because according to NJPIRG Program Associate Gideon Weissman, New Jersey receives nearly none of the federal subsidies.         

“At a place like a farmers market, where small farms are selling fresh food and vegetables, it’s important to see these healthy foods receive nearly no tax payer support,” said Weissman. “But if you go to a random convenient store and buy a pack of Twinkies, those foods are heavily subsidized by federal government.”  

As they launch their most ambitious summer program of the year, NJPIRG is releasing their report now because Congress is currently debating the Farm Bill.

According to NJPIRG’s new report, Apples to Twinkies 2012, federal subsidies for commodity crops are subsidizing junk food additives such as high fructose corn syrup, which could equate to 21 Twinkies per taxpayer annually.

Meanwhile, limited subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would only buy one half of an apple per taxpayer.

“Big agri-businesses such as Monsanto and Cargill are spending hundreds and of millions of dollars lobbying Congress to continue to get billions of dollars of our tax money that goes towards junk food ingredients like high fructose corn syrup,” Weissman said.

According to the 2012 report, New Jersey residents’ share of the expense for junk food subsidies is about $30 million each year on average, compared with just $1 million in subsidies for apples – enough to buy 82 million Twinkies, but only 2 million apples.

Junk food also contributes to the national childhood obesity rates, which have tripled over the last three decades, with one in five children aged 6 to 11 now obese.

These increases in obesity rates will lead to heart disease and diabetes, and a continuing rise in national medical costs in the hundreds of billions of dollars, Weissman added.

“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,” Weissman said. “With the Farm Bill about to be reauthorized, it’s time to end this waste.”

During the Paramus Farmers Market presentation, NJPIRG will provide a visual demonstration of the disparity between subsidies for junk food and subsidies for fresh produce using actual Twinkies and apples as examples. 

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Between 1995 and 2011, $18.2 billion in tax dollars subsidized four common food additives – corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils (known as hydrogenated vegetable oils).
  • At $7.58 per taxpayer per year, that would buy each taxpayer 21 Twinkies.
  • Outside of commodity crops, other agricultural products receive very little in federal subsidies.
  • Since 1995, taxpayers spent only $637 million to subsidize apples, which is the only significant federal subsidy of fresh fruits or vegetables. At 27 cents per taxpayer per year, that would buy less than half of one red apple.

Weissman said NJPIRG is informing the public and legislators with hopes of ending the junk food subsidies, which are wasting tax dollars and weakening public health.

According to NJPIRG’s 2011 report, New Jersey residents spent upwards of $30 million, which went directly into junk food subsidies. And between 1995 and 2011, American taxpayers spent over $277 billion in agricultural subsidies. 

The presentation is scheduled for Wednesday, July 25, 2:40pm at Paramus Farmers Market in Petruska Park, North Parking Lot which is adjacent to Paramus Recreation Center, 475 Fairview Avenue. Map: