Regarding the story on our national obesity epidemic (TNT, 7-7), it should be noted that a contributing factor is the degree to which our tax dollars subsidize poor dietary choices.
Over the last 15 years, $246 billion in taxpayer subsidies have helped to artificially reduce the price of unhealthy food. According to an analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture records, the top 10 percent of agricultural subsidy recipients received 74 percent of those payments, and the subsidies have disproportionately supported a handful of commodity crops led by corn and soy.
These subsidies have driven down the cost of commodity crops, including corn and soybeans, making processed foods cheap to produce and market, and making animal feedlots cheaper to maintain.
Overproduced corn is cheaply converted into sugars, leading to an explosion of various forms of corn syrup, and soy adds cheap, unhealthy fats to processed foods. Over the past 20 years, real costs for soda, sweets, fats and oils have declined, while prices for fruits and vegetables – grown with relatively little government support – have increased nearly 40 percent.
What can be done?
We’re urging Congress to establish caps on the amount of direct payments and limit the income eligibility for such payments. Taxpayers should not subsidize already profitable enterprises and certainly should not provide direct payments to landowners who no longer use the land for farming.
(Breaux is an advocate with the Washington Public Interest Research Group.)