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Archive for Thursday, August 11, 2005

Farm subsidies lean on nutritive value

August 11, 2005

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— The government says half your diet should be fruits and vegetables, but it doesn't subsidize the farmers who grow them.

Instead, half of all federal agriculture subsidies go to grain farmers, whose crops feed animals for meat, milk and eggs and become cheap ingredients in processed food.

What's wrong with that?

"Obesity. That's clearly the problem, if you look at the outcome in today's society," said Andy Fischer, executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition, a Venice, Calif., advocacy group.

Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. People clearly are getting the calories they need and more, but they're not getting enough nutrition, diet and disease experts say.

The government's new food pyramid, unveiled in April by the Agriculture Department, aims to improve the nation's health. It recommends that people eat fewer calories and more fruit, vegetables, lowfat milk and whole grains. It also tells people to avoid foods made with partially hydrogenated oils and sweeteners.

Federal farm programs, on the other hand, aim to maintain the financial health of American agriculture. Subsidies encourage an abundant supply of corn, wheat, rice and soybeans. Much of the corn and soybeans is fed to livestock. Some also is turned into nutrition-poor ingredients in processed food for people. For example, toaster pastries contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil that gives them a flaky texture, and they contain high-fructose corn syrup to sweeten their fruit filling. That translates to lots of calories, lots of artery-clogging fat and little or no fiber.

Many groups are pushing to link farm programs, which are due for an overhaul in 2007, more closely to government nutrition goals.

"Here we are as a society, talking constantly about obesity and diets, and yet our farm policies are not structured to encourage the kind of diet that the food pyramid suggests we should adopt," said Ralph Grossi, president of American Farmland Trust, a Washington-based group that advocates conservation on farm and ranch land.

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