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NJPIRG Law and Policy Center
Tom Hester Sr.

Have you received your 19 free Twinkies and quarter of an apple from the federal government yet?

Well ok, it doesn’t exactly work that way but federal subsidies for commodity crops are subsidizing junk food additives like high fructose corn syrup, enough to pay for 19 Twinkies per taxpayer every year, according to the report "Apples to Twinkies" made public Thursday by New Jersey Public Interest Research Group.

The report, released at Lincoln Park Community Farm in Newark, also states that limited federal subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy less than a quarter of an apple per taxpayer.

Overall, New Jerseyans federal taxpayers provide $29,871,208 for junk food subsidies, and $462,158 in apple subsidies. That’s enough for 78,608,443 Twinkies and 897,395 apples.

Newark taxpayers provide $950,707 each year for junk food subsidies, and $14,709 each year for subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy 2,501,860 Twinkies, and 28,561 apples.

“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,” NJPIRG Program Associate Gideon Weissman said. “It’s absurd that junk food is subsidized by taxpayers, while fresh fruits and vegetables barely get a bite at the apple.”

Between 1995 and 2010, the federal government provided over $260 billion in agricultural subsidies, according to the report. Most subsidies went to the country’s largest farming operations, mainly to grow just a few commodity crops, including corn and soybeans. Among other uses, food manufacturers process these crops into additives like high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oils that provide a cheap dose of sweetness and fat to a wide variety of junk food products.

Robert Wizniewski, director of Sustainable Development with the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District, explained the adverse relationship between urban agriculture and subsidies for unhealthy food: “Lincoln Park Community Farm provides city residents with direct access to affordable, organic produce grown locally in Newark. It’s ironic that simultaneous to our national “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity, locally grown food options are competing against junk food subsidized by the federal government."

“Shoveling cash at commodity crops also means we’re subsidizing these unhealthy additives, too,” Weissman added. “At a time when government spending is coming under increasing scrutiny, it’s time for Congress to get its priorities straight.”

The reports states that between 1995 and 2010, $16.9 billion in tax dollars subsidized four common food additives—corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils—better known as hydrogenated vegetable oils. At $7.36 per taxpayer per year, that would buy each taxpayer 19 Twinkies. Outside of commodity crops, other agricultural products receive very little in federal subsidies. Since 1995, taxpayers spent only $262 million subsidizing apples, which is the only significant federal subsidy of fresh fruits or vegetables. Coming to 11 cents per taxpayer per year, that would buy less than a quarter of an apple.

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