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Unique Idea: Have Government Subsidize Fruits and Vegetables

Oct 30, 2007

Doctors tell lawmakers to subsidize salads, vegetables and fruit, not fat don’t exercise is going to cost them and the taxpayers, plus they will lose years from their lifespan.

That’s what the nation’s doctors are doing, saying that federal lawmakers are responsible for the fact that a salad costs so much more than a Big Mac.

Hoping to produce thinner waistlines, many doctors — including the American Medical Association — want Congress to stop subsidizing the production of foods that are high in fat and cholesterol and spend more to promote fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains that are not.

The debate is intensifying as the Senate prepares to vote on a new farm bill. On Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bill that would give a record $2 billion for specialty crops, which include fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops. That’s at least four times as much as what Congress provided in 2002, when it approved the last farm bill.

The 2007 farm bill will determine which food industries get the most help from U.S. taxpayers over the next five years.
As the Senate prepares to vote on the farm bill, the physicians committee has been running a television advertisement that seeks to link agribusiness and Congress.

Called "Dirty Little Secret," the ad is a spoof of the legal troubles surrounding Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after an airport bathroom sex sting. In the ad, a well-dressed man in a bathroom stall taps his foot to signal his willingness to receive political contributions from the pork industry.

Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says that, "The real scandal in Washington is the farm bill," said "Senators take millions from corporations that produce bacon, burgers and other fatty foods. Then Congress buys up these unhealthy products and dumps them on our school lunch program. Companies get rich, and kids get fat."

Fruit and vegetable growers, who have long felt ignored on Capitol Hill, are confident they’ll cash in this year. They want to persuade Congress to broaden subsidies beyond traditional farm crops such as corn, wheat, rice and cotton.
On any given day, 45 percent of children eat no fruit at all, while 20 percent eat fewer than one serving of vegetables. All U.S. children would benefit if Congress offered subsidies to lower the prices that consumers pay for fruits and vegetables, he said.

With the nation’s obesity rates rising dramatically in recent years, doctors are jumping into the debate with increased fervor.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, agribusiness political action committees have given more than $5 million over the last four election cycles to members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. And from 1995 to 2004, nearly three-quarters of farm bill agricultural subsidies for food — or more than $51 billion — went to producers of sugar, oil, meat, dairy, alcohol and feed crops used for cattle and other farm animals.

The group said that in 2005, Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest meat producer, received $46.6 million in USDA commodity contracts. Less than half of 1 percent subsidized fruit and vegetable production, according to the physicians.
Physicians are alarmed, saying the high-fat, high-cholesterol foods subsidized by the farm bill then find their way into the national school lunch program, contributing to obesity.

Since 1985, the actual price of fruits and vegetables has increased 40 percent, while the price of sugar and fats has declined by 14 percent. Underserved communities should not be denied access to the same healthy and affordable food that is available to more affluent Americans.



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