On July 15, less than a week after the House passed a Farm Bill bloated with handouts to big agribusinesses like Monsanto, Twinkies went back on the market. That morning, I made calls to grocery stores across the state, and even here in Boulder, stores reported that they sold out, some that very morning, of this nutritionally devoid product largely paid for by our tax dollars. Yes, you read that right: in a time of staggering national debt and childhood obesity, our taxes are funding Twinkies.
Through the Farm Bill, billions of our tax dollars are used to make junk food ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. The way this works is most ag subsidies go toward big agribusinesses that produce commodity crops, such as corn and soy. Since 1995, taxpayers have given out $290 billion in agricultural subsidies, almost all of which goes toward just four commodity crops, according to the CoPIRG foundation. Even more shocking, 75 percent of these subsidies go to just 3.8 percent of farms, leaving most farms around Boulder without a dime.
These lopsided subsidies produce a surplus of crops like corn, and only 1 percent of that corn is the sweet corn you see in the grocery isle. What about the rest? A significant amount becomes processed into junk food additives like high fructose corn syrup. According to a new report by CoPIRG, the statewide consumer advocacy organization, since 1995 over $19.2 billion has subsidized junk food additives. That's enough to buy 20 Twinkies for every American taxpayer.
In contrast, only $689 million has subsidized apples since 1995 -- enough to buy every taxpayer just a half of an apple. Boulder is the thinnest city in the nation, and Colorado the thinnest state, but we're fatter than the fattest state was in 1995, which was Mississippi. And yet our tax money pays for plates of Twinkies, not apples.
Last week's Farm Bill vote continued the current practice of disproportionately subsidizing huge agribusinesses and empty-calorie foods. As a Boulder resident who wants to eat affordable yet healthy food, I am appalled that Congress plans to continue throwing our tax money toward junk food and the wealthiest corporations in the world.
That said, several of our representatives, including Boulder's Rep. Jared Polis, voted for key amendments that would've cut the worst of these wasteful subsidies, according to his voting record. Unfortunately, these amendments did not pass, but we shouldn't lose hope yet. As the Farm Bill heads into Conference Committee, it's not too late for our representatives and senators to fight for a Farm Bill that prioritizes people, farms, and food--not corporations and corn syrup.
Hanna Saltzman, CoPIRG Boulder Citizen Outreach Director