Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Policies on farm subsidies in a few developed countries are holding up any agreement on evolving universal trade regimes with minimum distortion and such subsidies are supposed to help the domestic farmers to ensure growth of the agriculture sector. It is however known that these subsidies are not reaching the intended beneficiaries viz small farmers and are mostly conferred on a few big farms cultivating thousands of hectares. Added to this it has been brought out recently that such subsidies are harming the health of the consumers by driving the junk food industry offering calorie rich food products at low prices. In contrast nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables are ignored making them relatively costlier. A country like the US cannot wish away the above irrefutable fact and must address this issue on a priority basis before it assumes monstrous dimension. Here are the facts brought out recently by a study in that country.

"It's a well known fact that most farm subsidies go to crops, like feed corn, that aren't exactly healthy. They're crops that are easy to grown en masse and in the heartland. But a new study from the US Public Interest Research Group, called "Apples To Twinkies," shows just how unhealthy most subsidized food is. According to the report, the vast majority of produce subsidized by the USDA ends up in junk food. According to the study, a whopping $17 billion of the total $260 billion the government spent subsidizing agriculture went to just four common food additives: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils. By comparison, the government spent just $261 million subsidizing apples, and far less still supporting fruits and vegetables, like spinach, broccoli and blueberries, that public health experts say encourage better health. To put things in perspective, the PIRG study said that, if the government had given taxpayers the subsidies instead of the farmers, each one would have been given $7.36 to spend on junk food and just 11 cents to spend on apples a year. This is a key factor that makes junk food more expensive than healthy food — and, by extension, that makes many Americans obese. It's possible, though, that the era of huge farm subsidies may be coming to a close. Food Safety News notes that Obama called for a massive cut to farm subsidies for the 2012 budget. The cuts were proposed as a part of his deficit reduction plan — but this new study shows how far subsidy changes could go towards cutting obesity rates as well. Mark Bittman, for his part, has repeatedly called for farm subsidy reform rather than elimination, in the hopes that the government will make it easier for Americans to afford healthy food".

The recent UN meeting on the emerging non-communicable diseases points out clearly that Tobacco, Alcohol and unhealthy processed foods are responsible for most of these diseases reaching crisis proportion and all countries must address this problem urgently without further prevarication. In fact serious suggestions are being made to make the unhealthy foods costlier through imposition of high taxes with a hope such fiscal measures would reduce consumption of these foods significantly. In spite of years of appealing to the food industry to moderate their food processing regime shifting the product mix to healthier ones, the ground reality is that no measurable achievement is still perceptible calling for mandatory action by the governments. Against such a background how can one justify the prevalent farm subsidies with devastating impact on the health of the citizens? The bad politics of farming being followed are causing harm both nationally and globally!


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