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Report: Farm bill subsidizes unhealthy foods

Group says subsidies contributed to nation’s obesity problem.

Twinkies are back, but there is a dark cloud to the feel-good story: The Twinkie represents years of inflated and misdirected farm subsidies, according to an Ohio advocacy group.

More than $19 billion has been spent since 1995 subsidizing crops made into food additives — corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils — used in the cakes, according to a report released Tuesday by the Ohio Public Interest Research Group.

The group says farm subsidies contribute to the “national obesity epidemic” by giving a boost to unhealthy foods, such as Twinkies.

For example, $689 million since 1995 has been spent subsidizing apples. That translates to about 20 Twinkies for every half apple bought with the subsidies, according to the group.

“The fact taxpayers are paying to exacerbate this issue is just ridiculous,” spokeswoman Tabitha Woodruff said while standing behind a small pile of Twinkies and half an apple outside a cooperative grocery store north of downtown. Woodruff said the money could help small farmers or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, referred to as food stamps.

The report comes as Congress grapples with the latest incarnation of the farm bill, legislation that provides subsidies, food stamps and security for the nation’s farmers. The Senate passed its version in June and the House excluded food stamps from its version on Thursday.

Talks to reconcile differences between the two chambers have stalled as Senate Democrats and House Republicans fight over SNAP benefits.

The report also coincides with the return of the Twinkie to store shelves on Monday. Woodruff said taxpayers subsidize at least 17 of the 37 ingredients in a Twinkie, including corn syrup and corn starch from corn and vegetable shortening from soybeans.

“This is a great opportunity to highlight many of the agricultural subsidies subsidize junk food,” Woodruff said.

Half of Ohio’s 75,861 farms received federal farm subsidies in 2007, according to the USDA census of agriculture. The average government payment in 2007 was $6,099.

Joe Cornely of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation did not comment on the report but said the farm bill helps many Ohio farmers.

“Ninety-eight percent of farms are family farms and if they are corporations, they are of the nature where grandpa is the chairman of the board and dad is the CEO and sons and daughters are vice presidents,” Cornely said. “This fallacy that it’s big, corporate mega agriculture that benefits from farm supports is not portraying the facts.”

He said his group, which includes farms comprising thousands of acres and small farms in their infancy, is eager for Congress to pass a farm bill.

“We’re looking for something that’s going to benefit all our members,” Cornely said.

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