Consumer Group to Feds: Stop Junk Food Subsidies

Too much taxpayer money going to large agribusinesses that grow "commodity crops," PIRG says

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Illinois Public Interest Group says too much taxpayer money is being sent to crops that end up as junk food and not enough is being spent on subsidies for healthier crops. Charlie Wojciechowski reports. (Published Thursday, Jul 26, 2012)

    An Illinois consumer group and some farmers are asking that a bigger slice of the subsidy pie to go to smaller farms instead of larger agribusiness firms.

    In a report released Thursday entitled "Apples to Twinkies," The United States Public Interest Group (PIRG), says farm subsidies are unfairly balanced.

    "While they'd originated as rescue programs to help small, family-owned farmers keep their doors open, they've been reshaped into subsidies that primarily benefit the country's largest farming operations," PIRG's authors wrote in the report.

    Since 1995, $172 billion has gone to commodity crops -- which the report defines as corn, wheat, cotton, and soybeans -- the report says, citing the Farm Subsidy Database,

    By comparison, subsidies for apples have amounted to $637 million, PIRG said. The report said apples are "one of the only fresh fruits or vegetables receiving significant federal subsidies."

    The report comes as Congress prepares to take up the 2012 Farm bill. It passed in the Senate last month but has not passed the House.

    Farmers like Kenny Stover, who grows berries in Michigan, hopes the passage comes sooner rather than later.

    "What we're struggling with right now is with all the disaster that happened in April, with all the freeze, the government's wanting to step in and help," he said. "But where the money's gonna go is just wind up into the bigger farmers."

    And those bigger farmers, PIRG argues, are growing those commodity crops to make too much unhealthy food.

    "These additives are empty calories, and they're getting massive taxpayer support," said Hailey Whitt, field director of Illinois PIRG.

    Some also contend the subsidies encourage people to make unhealthy choices in their diets.

    "It's too bad because, when you think about it, eating healthier should be rewarded, I would think." said Clay Powell of Krug Farms. "And unfortunately, it doesn't work out that way."

    The National Corn Growers Association has said it supports the Farm Bill in its current form.

    "It's important for farmers, not just corn growers, to have a good safety net," said association spokesman Ken Colombini, "Especially in times of drought like this."

    PIRG: Apples to Twinkies Report