Monday, November 08, 2010

Link between farm subsidies and obesity called into question

As the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill heats up, the editorial vice president of one agriculture industry trade magazine is getting out in front of one myth about the bill: that farm subsidies cause obesity. "Because grains are subsidized, it's argued, meat is cheap, as are corn-sweetened foods and beverages. Because they're cheap, Americans over-eat them. Because they over-eat them, they're obese," Urban C. Lehner of DTN/The Progressive Farmer writes. Lehner notes while that chain of causation seems logical, a recent study reveals that subsidies "had 'negligible' effects on what Americans pay for food and how many calories they consume."

The study from Justin Alston of the University of California at Davis, Brad Rickard of Cornell University and Abigail Okrent of U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service used computer simulations to probe "the effects of eliminating subsidies for 11 different commodities on calorie consumption of 10 categories of food," Lehner writes. Some situations yielded calorie increases while others yielded decreases but the results in both situations were too small to be considered significant. Three simulations suggested eliminating all farm subsidies would actually increase American calorie consumption.

"Why?" Lehner writes. "Because some farm programs that act as subsidies, like our import restrictions on sugar, raise retail food prices. Still, the effect was small -- from 200 to 1,900 extra calories per adult per year." Lehner notes the authors restrict their argument to simulations, but one could use the fact that other countries without subsidies but with obesity problems are further evidence. "As the 2012 farm bill debate intensifies, opponents of subsidies will no doubt advance some respectable arguments," Lehner writes. "But the Choices study makes a strong case that obesity is not one of them." (Read more)

No comments: