Can we reform farm policies to support healthier diets?

Can we reform farm policies to support healthier diets?

The Washington Post’s food writer Tamar Haspel discounts the role that subsidies can play in the choices farmers make, noting that subsidies flow to some barley and lentil farmers, as well as corn and soybean farmers.

But farm subsidies for corn and soybeans – which are primarily used as animal feed and fuel, not food – dwarf subsidies for the foods that make up a healthy diet.

While corn and soybean farmers received more than $4 billion in subsidies to purchase crop insurance in 2013, farmers who grow fruits, nuts and vegetables received just $500 million in premium support.

What’s more, farmers of fruits and vegetables are completely ineligible for the “commodity subsidies” that overwhelmingly flow to corn and soybean farmers, and which make up one-third of all farm subsidies.

Between 1995 and 2014, corn farmers received $94.3 billion in farm subsidies. By contrast, barley farmers received just $2.9 billion in subsidies. Lentil farmers received less than $400 million.

Other policies also impact fruit and vegetables prices – including tariffs that limit fruit and vegetable imports, and marketing orders that allow farmers to restrict supply. Haspel also overlooks a study that found that increasing the monthly SNAP benefit by $30 would increase purchases of healthy foods, especially vegetables and healthy sources of protein.

Is healthy food too expensive? Are consumers to blame for their dietary choices?

The right questions are whether policymakers can help make healthier diets more affordable and whether promoting healthy diets would reduce the risk of diet-related diseases.

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