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University of California
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Farm subsidies are not to blame for the obesity crisis

The common notion that the federal government is contributing to the obesity epidemic by providing billions of dollars in annual subsidies to farmers doesn't pencil out, according to UC Davis agricultural economist Julian Alston.

Alston was featured in a six-minute NPR story about farm subsidies yesterday. The story largely dispelled the theory that federal subsidies encourage farmers to grow too much grain, causing commodity prices to drop, making food cheaper and inviting people to eat too much.

Alston said improved agricultural productivity is responsible for cutting the price of food.

"Food productivity is more than doubled, so the real cost is less than half what it was 40 to 50 years ago," he said. "That's the big story. And that wasn't caused by subsidies. That was caused by improvements in productivity on the farm."

Farm subsidies do not necessarily make food cheaper.

"The net effect of the whole set of farm supports is to make food more expensive and actually to discourage obesity," Alston said.

When corn prices doubled, the price of corn flakes barely moved.
Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, another expert who contributed to the story, said the food environment created by America's food manufacturers and marketers has more influence on consumers' waistlines. Food ingredient costs are small compared to the cost of processing, packaging, transportation, marketing and merchandising.

Posted on Friday, August 12, 2011 at 8:00 AM
Tags: farm bill (5), Julian Alston (7), obesity (22)

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