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NEW HAVEN — If agricultural subsidies were to go directly to consumers in the city, residents would be able to buy 1.2 million Twinkies, or 32,120 apples, according to a study released Wednesday by Connecticut Public Interest Research Group.
According to ConnPIRG’s Apples to Twinkies study, federal subsidies for commodity crops, such as corn, soybeans and wheat, are subsidizing junk food additives such as high fructose corn syrup — enough to pay for 21 Twinkies per taxpayer every year. The study also showed that subsidies for fresh fruit and vegetables equate to half an apple per taxpayer.
“At a time when America is facing an obesity epidemic, crushing debt and a weak economy, we are spending over a billion dollars every day on subsidizing junk food in the U.S.,” said Dan Smith, ConnPIRG’s tax and budget advocate.
Apples to Twinkies detailed that $18.2 billion in tax dollars have gone to subsidize junk food since 1995, compared with $637 million that has gone to apples in the same time period.
“I couldn’t imagine a worse use of taxpayer dollars than subsidizing junk,” said Smith.
Roberta Friedman, policy director at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said the findings of the study showcase the issue of obesity in America.
“We can’t blame individuals for not turning their lives around because we live in a toxic environment, (one where) it is easier to find junk food than whole foods,” she said.
According to Friedman, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese and 17 percent of youth in the U.S. are obese. Health issues stem from that, resulting in statistics like this: nearly 26 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and heart disease is the cause of one in four deaths in the country, said Friedman.
A crowd of people gathered outside of City Hall as the taxpayer impact and health risks were explained Wednesday. CitySeed’s farmers market was bustling in the background and ConnPIRG members held up signs blaring the messages “stop funding fat” and “our tax dollars hard at work,” with an arrow pointing to a Twinkie.
“The food system is a mess and there are some problems retailers can’t solve,” said Alderman Doug Hausladen, D-7, who is the co-founder of ActualFood.com. “We can’t overcome billions of dollars in subsidies that make it cheap to produce fake food. We can find ways to sell apples more efficiently at a lower cost. But we can’t prevent manufacturers from using hydrogenated oils in so many of their products.”
Hausladen and Friedman encouraged people to act as citizens and contact their representatives. Smith stressed that there isn’t a better time to do so than now because those subsidies are part of the federal Farm Bill, which is currently up for re-authorization in Congress.
“I believe the government has a direct role in making sure that healthy food is affordable and that farming remains a viable way of life, but right now our government is intervening in the worst possibly way by subsidizing a few commodity crops without regard for how they were grown and what they will be used for,” said Hausladen.
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