Between 1960 and 2010, the rate of obesity skyrocketed from only 12 percent to a whopping 35.7 percent. By 2030, half of America will be obese, according to several studies. And with rising obesity rates come rising rates of spending on health for obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, among others.
In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were $147 billion, according to the CDC, roughly one-sixth spent of total medical spending. And total spending on healthcare as a percentage of GDP has risen from 5.2 percent in 1960 to more than 16 percent today, growing at a rate that dwarfs those of other industrialized countries.
Most of the increases in obesity and healthcare spending can be attributed to the spending policies of the U.S. farm bill, which pays out a large amount of subsidies for farms growing crops, particularly corn and soybeans, that can be processed into unhealthy and fattening substances such as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils (such as hydrogenated vegetable oil.)
Around $18 billion was spent to produce the four processes food additives between 1995 and 2011, according to a report by the California Public Interest Research Group, CalPIRG. In contrast, the only other fruit or vegetable receiving significant federal subsidies, the apple, receives $262 million, which accounts to only 2 percent of corn and soybeans subsidies.
The CalPIRG report states that while corn and soybeans are not a problem in and of themselves, the processed and unhealthy substances they create are a problem, and the amount of them being used to create these substances are a problem – according to data in the report, only 1 percent of corn and soybeans produced are eaten.
The United States first began giving federal support for farming during the Great Depression when crop prices were low. Nearly 80 years later, the farm bill primarily benefits large farming organizations producing corn and soy, two of the most profitable crops around.
The setup of the farm bill has been criticized for having no caps on subsidy payments and for leaving loop-holes and loose definitions for what it means to be engaged in farming. Often-times, these loop-holes are exploited by much larger farming corporations, while small and mid-sized farming operations depend on these subsidies to stay afloat.
“The farm bill should do a lot more to provide healthy food, protect the environment and help working farm and ranch families, but there are a host of well-funded and well-connected interests that benefit greatly from the status quo,” states a report from the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The report continues: “The list includes politicians looking to fill campaign coffers, corporate agri-chemical giants like Monsanto and Syngenta seeking to expand their markets, and big Ag’s public relations and lobby organizations, which cash in year after year.”
Back in 2007, when the former farm bill was being brought back up in Congress for renewal, Monsanto, one of the largest agriculture biotechnology corporations, spent $8.8 million on lobbying, much of it on 22 specific issues contained in the farm bill, according to the Center for Responsible Politics, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C. that tracks lobby spending.
Several other companies lobbied as well, including Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Koch Industries, and the American Beverage Association, among many others.
A recent addition to the 2012 farm bill is a program called “shallow loss” that provides another layer of insurance to farmers, triggered when a farmer of eligible crops sees revenues fall below 90 percent of the previous five years' average level.
Liberals dislike the program because it provides benefits to farming organizations already enjoying record profits.
But the program isn't disliked by liberals alone. Emily Goff, Research Associate for The Heritage Foundation, a “conservative think tank” criticized the program, stating:
“The Senate bill’s new subsidy program, also called “shallow loss,” would provide yet another layer of subsidized insurance to farmers. It would further drain the pockets of taxpayers and consumers and harm international trade. At a time of tight budgets and record high crop prices and farm revenue, it is especially poor policy and irresponsible budgeting to expand the already lavish safety net.”
“Shallow loss would shield farmers from even smaller (shallower) revenue losses than under the existing federal insurance programs. It would be triggered when a farmer of eligible crops sees revenues fall below 90 percent of the previous five years’ average level. This rolling average would be artificially high, though, because of recent record-high crop prices,” she continued. “Shallow loss would significantly reduce risk in farming and provide an income guarantee enjoyed by no other industry, one based on booming farm prices and revenues.”
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