NJPIRG report blasts subsidies it says promote junk-food industry

TRENTON – A new report claims that government subsidies do more to prop up the junk food industry than promote healthy eating.

The N.J. Public Interest Research Group released a report today, “Apples to Twinkies,’’ that claims billions of taxpayer dollars support ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup commonly found in so-called junk foods while not nearly enough goes to support healthy foods.

The report claims that since 1995, Americans have paid more than $260 billion on agricultural subsidies, with most of it going to support grains and proteins and not enough going toward fruits and vegetables.

While acknowledging that such commodity crops are not unhealthy in and of themselves, the report states most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States do not arrive on diners’ plates as is, but are processed into high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated vegetable oil.

To dramatically portray the result of this trend, the NJPIRG report devised a breakdown by city incorporating what the organization labeled each location’s share of what it referred to as the Agriculture Department’s ‘junk food subsidy.’

New York, according to NJPIRG, with a population of 8.1 million, has a $28 million share of the NJPIRG-designated junk food subsidy, which the organization stated accounts for 73.8 million Twinkies.

On the other hand, according to the report, New York’s share of the so-called apple subsidy is $433,000, or 842,000 apples.

N.J. and junk food

NJPIRG offered two New Jersey cities for comparison.

Newark, with a population of 277,000, consumes a $950,000 Agriculture Department “junk food subsidy,” or 2.5 million Twinkies, compared to a $14,000 apple subsidy, or 28,000 apples.

Trenton, with a population of 83,000, has a $285,000 junk food subsidy, or 751,000 Twinkies, compared to a $4,400 apple subsidy, or 8,500 apples.

For New Jersey as a whole, the NJPIRG report says that with a population of 8.7 million, the state claimed a junk food subsidy of $29.8 million, or 78.6 million Twinkies. That contrasts with an apple subsidy of $462,000, or 897,000 apples.

In order to draw attention to healthy eating, NJPIRG unveiled its report at the non-profit Lincoln Park Community Farm in Newark whose fresh produce includes cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and more.

Obesity epidemic

Part of the motivation behind the report was to draw attention to the nation’s obesity problem, according to Gideon Weissman, NJPIRG program associate.

Forty-five percent of Newark toddlers are overweight or obese, which is more than double the national average, NJPIRG reported. Nationally, childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last three decades, according to the report, with one in five children ages 6 to 11 considered obese.

NJPIRG states one of the root causes of this problem is the prevalence of high-fat, heavily sweetened junk food, and that Agricultural subsidies are indirectly contributing to the problem.

“Without significant policy changes, projections suggest that by 2030, half of Americans will be obese, and we will be spending an additional $66 billion a year in medical costs as a result,’’ the report stated.

A copy of the report is attached. NJPIRG report blasts subsidies it says promote junk-food industry