Ohio PIRG: Taxpayers Support Obesity Epidemic Via Farm Subsidies

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The Ohio PIRC says taxpayers are contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic through federal agriculture subsidies. Corn growers say the epidemic surrounds choices and portion control.(Photo: Brandon Cripps)
The Ohio PIRC says taxpayers are contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic through federal agriculture subsidies. Corn growers say the epidemic surrounds choices and portion control.(Photo: Brandon Cripps)

An Ohio public interest group Wednesday released a study that links the nation’s ever-growing obesity rate to federal farm subsidies. But WOSU reports local farmers say the problem does not lie with the ingredients.

Ohio Public Interest Research Group says taxpayers – in a roundabout way – are contributing to childhood obesity. The group released a study that shows how billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded agricultural subsidies support junk food.

Jacqueline Thomas speaks for Ohio PIRG. She said corn is one of the agricultural commodities receiving a large percentage of subsidies.

“Food manufacturers process them into additives like corn syrup and vegetable oils that provide a cheap dose of sweetness and fat to a wide variety of junk food products. Thus, American tax dollars are directly subsidizing junk food ingredients,” Thomas said.

The study said during the last 15 years, corn growers received $77 billion in federal subsidies. Ohio PIRG said apples are the only fruit or vegetable that receives significant federal subsidies – about one third of a percent of corn growers.

Thomas breaks it down further.

“If these agricultural subsidies went directly to consumers to allow them to purchase food each of America’s taxpayers would be given $7.36 to spend on junk food and only 11 cents with which to buy apples each year. That’s enough to buy 19 Twinkies, but less than a quarter of one Red Delicious apple,” she said.

The group said it wants an end to what it calls wasteful, junk food subsidies.

There has been a lot of debate recently whether high-fructose corn syrup is any worse for consumers than cane sugar. The Corn Refiners Association likens high-fructose corn syrup to table sugar in the way the body metabolizes it.

Acting head of the Ohio Corn Marketing Program, Tadd Nicholson, said the blame for the nation’s obesity rate should not be put on ag subsidies or high-fructose corn syrup.

“It’s portion size control as opposed to changing the types of sweeteners we use in the United States. Americans enjoy a lot of choices and I don’t think anybody wants to give up those choices. If it comes to childhood obesity which apparently they’re linking this to, it’s really educating kids on proper foods to eat and how much of it to eat,” Thomas said.

Nicholson added he is not against reducing federal agricultural subsidies. He said he would rather see the money redirected into an insurance program for farmers to use only when they needed it.

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