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Study Finds Tenuous Link Between Farm Subsidies and Intake of Sweets
October 28th, 2008
Ames, Iowa — An Iowa State University analysis fails to support claims that farm subsidies for agricultural commodity production are directly implicated in the growing obesity problem in the United States and the increased consumption of sweetened foods and drinks.
Two Iowa State economists, working with University of California-Davis researchers on the project, found that the current link between these subsidies and intake of sweeteners is tenuous at best, although a stronger link could be found in earlier years. Eliminating corn subsidies would do little to decrease the consumption of sweeteners in foods, according to the analysis by John Beghin and Helen Jensen, Iowa State economics professors.
Beginning in the 1970s, companies began substituting cheaper high-fructose corn syrup for the more expensive sugars made from cane and beet sugar, and farm subsidies did make the substitute much more competitive. Critics have charged that the cheap corn-based sweetener used in many snack foods and beverages has contributed to high and rising U.S. rates of obesity and diabetes.
The Beghin and Jensen study found that countries with no comparable commodity programs had increasing rates of sweetener consumption similar to those in the United States. Also, the farm share of the value of sweetened food items is so small, at roughly 5 percent or less, that the effect of sweetener ingredient prices has become much less important over time.
A paper describing the study and its findings, “Farm Policies and Added Sugars in U.S. Diets,” is available at http://www.card.iastate.edu/research/fnp/.