This post, which could be filed under “food for thought,” addresses an October Food and Water Watch (FWW) report which turns a critical eye to the supposed correlation between food subsidies and obesity. The arguments for the connection claim that subsidized crops such as corn and soy are turned into high fructose corn syrup and other common ingredients found in processed (junk) food. In turn, the costs of these products are cheapened and consumption increases.
It is important to note that soy, corn, wheat (all heavily subsidized) drastically and disproportionately benefit animal agribusiness by providing them exceptionally cheap feed, thereby externalizing the true cost of animal-sourced foods (meat, dairy, eggs).
FWW claim that the argument, although compelling, bears little resemblance to any academic research. Instead, economists and agricultural policy analysts site deregulation, not subsidization, of corn and soybeans as the culprits behind our present public health crisis.
The “obesity crisis” has been receiving a lot of attention in mainstream media and although there seems to be a momentum toward healthier living our numbers are still staggering: according to the CDC one third (33%) of adults in the U.S are obese. Additionally, 17% or 12.5 million children and adolescents are also considered obese.
A little history: In the 1980′s and ’90′s the federal government withdrew previous policies that had limited the production of “commodity” crops and helped to stabilize prices paid to farmers. This deregulation significantly impacted the price of commodities which benefited food processors, marketers and retailers as well as had a substantial impact on the availability of high calorie, processed foods.
FWW is not making a claim that subsidies are not in need of desperate reform, they just want to clarify that they were instituted after the deregulation, and were the cause of plummeting prices and bankrupting small farms. The saturated fats found in animal-sourced foods combined with the bankrupting of small farms, benefits the large agribusiness corporations, increasing their vertical and horizontal integration and, thus, their control of the market.
If the goal is to provide access to healthy foods, FWW calls for developing responsible “federal supply management programs” aimed at reducing overproduction while stabilizing supply.
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