by Marion Nestle
Sep 23 2011

Weekend reading: food politics reports

The U.S. Public Interest Group (USPIRG) has a new report out on the effects of farm subsidies on obesity: Apples to Twinkies: Comparing Federal Subsidies of Fresh Produce and Junk Food.  If you want people to eat more fruits and vegetables and less junk food, fixing the subsidy patterns might be a good place to begin.

New England Complex Systems Institute (whatever that might be) has an interesting explanation of the recent rise in world food prices: The Food Crises: A Quantitative Model of Food Prices Including Speculators and Ethanol Conversion.
The authors’ explanation: commodity speculation and growing corn for ethanol fully account for the rise in prices.  The remedy seems obvious, no?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has just funded a report on the soft drink industry from the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN), a project of Public Health Law & Policy (PHLP): Breaking Down the Chain: A Guide to the Soft Drink Industry.  This is about the industry itself, but also what it is doing to market its products here, there, and everywhere.  This is required reading for anyone interested in public health measures to reduce consumption of sugary drinks.

  • Larry K.

    Somehow, the posts about PIRG and HFCS prices seem to converge in the timely piece: Is junk food really cheaper?

    In the article the author makes the case that while relative prices do create their own food system dynamics, in a well-off country like the U.S. they only partly explain current patterns of eating habits, dietary choices and the shaping of the overall food environment.

    It is safe to assume that farm lobbies will use this argument to justify continuation of the existing pattern of subsidies.

    USPIRG and others should make a better case of laying out their vision of what national security, food safety, environmental protection, rural income and nutritional outcomes are desirable and make suggestions as to how policy tools may be wielded to achieve such outcomes. Otherwise, the status-quo groups will do it for you.

  • Dan

    I still maintain its best to eliminate, rather than shift, subsidies. Shifting subsidies to “healthy foods” simply inspires the processed food industry to employ new technologies to come up with broccoli syrup or carrot syrup, instead of corn syrup, or avocado oil instead of soy oil. The industry has no special attachment to the current food commodities other than they are cheap. And there is nothing inherently unhealthy about the currently subsidized foods when eaten in moderation in their whole, unprocessed forms. Furthermore, nation-specific subsidies distort the global market and serve to ultimately keep the poor impoverished or nations entirely reliant on other nations for their subsistence. Neither of which are good for Americans in the long term.