You may not realize this but the US federal government pays out billions of dollars every year to farmers to encourage the growing of particular crops. Something else you may not realize is how drastically this subsidization affects which foods end up in your diet. Here are the top 9 foods the US government most heavily subsidizes and are therefore paying for you to eat:
Corn is easily the most subsidized of all. Between 1995 and 2010, $77.1 billion was given to corn farmers within the US. Does this mean we can all enjoy more delicious corn on the cob? No, it does not. In fact, the majority of the corn produced isn’t even edible. It’s grown and genetically modified strictly for the purpose of being processed into food additives such as high fructose corn syrup; a mercury containing, cancer causing ingredient that has nearly replaced sugar in many products like cereal, beverages and ketchup. As well, corn is processed into cornstarch, corn gluten meal, hydrolyzed corn protein, and corn syrup, which can all be found in cookies and other snack foods. Lastly, corn is heavily subsidized with the intention of being used as animal feed to prompt weight gain before slaughter. The problem is that the digestive tract of these slaughter animals is designed to break down grass, not corn, making the animals sick and prompting the use of heavy antibiotics just to keep them alive.
Wheat is the second most subsidized crop in the US coming in at $32.4 billion between 1995 and 2010. The price of wheat and demand has gone through the roof in the last few years, with wheat stockpiles hitting an all time low in 2008. But even with the shortages in wheat, due to high demand, subsidies continue to grow.
Rounding out the top 3 most subsidized foods is the soybean, with subsidies totaling $24.3 billion between 1995 and 2010. It has just been within the last few decades that the US government has started encouraging such large production of soybeans within the country. Today the US grows about 75% of all the soy grown in the world, and just like with corn crops, nearly all of it is genetically modified. Most consumers see soy on their plate in two ways: as meat (soy is often used as animal feed), the second as soy products such as soybean oil, which has replaced more expensive oils in many products.
Most people have no idea that the US grew rice at all, let alone subsidized American rice farmers $12.9 billion between 1995 and 2010. The reality is that rice has been grown in the US since the 17th century; the country was producing 80 million pounds a year by the American Revolution, a number that continues to grow today partly due to consumers search for healthier dietary options, and partially due to Asian immigration.
The two primary ingredients in beer, barley and sorghum, are among the most heavily subsidized grains in the US, at $10.6 billion between 1995 and 2010. According to the USDA about 50% of the barley and 15% of the sorghum in the US is grown for making alcohol. It is a little suspicious that the government so heavily subsidizes something that they tax so heavily. The government brings in approx. $3.6 billion in taxes on beer each year; but I suppose what they bring in from taxes goes right back out in subsidies.
The average US citizen consumes ¾ cups of milk a day, making it one of the most popular products in the United States. It’s also the sixth most heavily subsidized, at $4.9 billion a year.
The average American eats about 66lbs of beef a year. The US is not only the biggest consumer of beef in the world, but is also the largest beef producer in the world. It makes sense then that the US government subsidized beef farmers with $3.6 billon from 1995-2010. It has been said that subsidization changed the face of beef production in the country, leading to the current fatty, diseased, feedlot animals we consume today.
8. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is almost as American as apple pie, and with 90% of American households eating peanut butter, Americans in total consumed 4 billion pounds of peanuts in 2010. Peanut farmers have been subsidized since 1993 and the government paid out $3.5 billion to peanut farmers between 1995 and 2010. Peanut farming is so important to the federal government that there is a support package in place to protect the US peanut industry from low-priced peanuts produced internationally.
9. Sunflower Oil
Last on our list of the 9 most subsidized crops are sunflowers, primarily grown for use as sunflower oil. Sunflower production in the US covers 2.5 million acres and subsidies of $880 million were paid out to farmers between 1995 and 2010. Sunflower oil is used for frying by many restaurants across America because it is an oil which has relatively little taste. In fact, one of the biggest consumers of sunflower oil in the US is Lays Potato Chips.
In short, the high government subsidies farmers get to produce the above foods leads to heavy production, and heavy use in processed food items. This means they appear on your table more often than other foods that get subsidized less. Think about this the next time you sit down to your diner table.