9 Foods You're Paying to Produce, Like Them or Not

by Jason Wire Jul 6, 2011

Since 1995, the US government has paid an average of $10 billion per year in subsidies to farmers. The concept is nothing new, nor particularly mind-boggling: farmers receive tax dollars as payment for growing particular crops, because if all farmers grew whatever they wanted then the ‘agricultural equilibrium’ would be vulnerable, and we might run out of corn for our soft drinks and McNugget breading.

But subsidies also work under the assumption that taxpayers are getting a return on their ‘investment’, much less their money’s worth. For instance, $1 of tax money used to subsidize corn production should return more than $1 of corn to the investing taxpayer, because the subsidy should be increasing production and keeping the cost of corn low. But what about corn used in the ethanol industry? What about companies that buy up all the cheap corn and re-sell it in products for a higher cost (i.e., every snack food ever)?

Here are the top nine most-subsidized crops/commodities that you’re paying for.

9. Sunflower Oil
Total Subsidies (1995-2010): $880 million
Biggest Producers: Cargill, Dow AgroChemical
Notes: Sunflower seed snackers account 25% of consumption, but the sunflower’s oil is the most common product. The oil is used both for flavor enhancement (see the back of most any Lay’s bag) and as a cooking oil, as well as in cosmetics for moisturizing.

8. Peanut Butter
Total Subsidies (1995-2010): $3.4 billion
Biggest Producers: The J.M. Smucker Co., Unilever
Notes: Despite the increased awareness of nut allergies, taxpayers in 2008 subsidized about ten times the amount of peanuts they did in 1995.

7. Ground Beef
Total Subsidies (1995-2010): $3.6 billion
Biggest Producers: Fairbank Farms, Cargill
Notes: By a wide margin, beef is the most produced and consumed livestock in the country, and more than 40% of beef is sold as ground beef.

6. Milk
Total Subsidies (1995-2010): $4.9 billion
Biggest Producers: Dean Foods, Dairy Farmers of America
Notes: Americans aren’t drinking as much milk as they used to, especially whole milk. Either way subsidies are way, way up–from $13 million in 2008 to $1.2 billion in 2009 after dairy farmers suffered the recession and an decrease in exports. If you’re an average American, you drink about 21 gallons of cow juice every year.

5. Beer
Total Subsidies (1995-2010): $10.6 billion
Biggest Producers: Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, Pabst
Notes: One has to wonder what those involved in the modern temperance movement must think of their tax dollars being used to produce the devil’s Kool-Aid. Two of the most subsidized crops in America, barley and sorghum, are the main components of beer, which Americans drank nearly 22 gallons of in 2008.

4. Rice
Total Subsidies (1995-2010): $12.9 billion
Biggest Producers: American Rice
Notes: Rice has become increasingly popular in the average American diet, with the grain occupying 21 pounds of space per year in a person’s diet in 2008, a 22% increase from 17 pounds in 1995.

3. Soybean Oil
Total Subsidies (1995-2010): $24.3 billion
Biggest Producers: Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland
Notes: Soy oil is used for everything from ink to making tofu, soy milk, and just about any vegetarian alternative you can think of. It’s a decent way to get protein instead of relying on meats or dairies. More money has been given to soybean growers than rice, sorghum and dairy combined in the last 15 years.

2. Bread
Total Subsidies (1995-2010): $32.4 billion
Biggest Producers: Entenmann’s, Pepperidge Farm, Sara Lee
Notes: Why do we need to subsidize wheat? It’s a staple of the American diet, and no one’s announcing a better or alternative way of making bread without wheat. Regardless of the consistently high demand, the government continues to push billions per year into wheat farming subsidies.

1. Corn Syrup
Total Subsidies (1995-2010): $77.1 billion
Biggest Producers: Archer Daniels Midland
Notes: Corn is in everything. It’s in your Coca-cola. It’s in your cheese. It’s in cereal, gum, shampoo, soap, and sometimes even clothes. Corn is one of the most efficient crops of all time, giving a ton of energy (sugar) in tiny packages (kernels). In the ethanol industry, corn is used as fuel–fully transcending the notion of a what a ‘crop’ can be. When you’re traveling outside the US, notice the way soda tastes: it’s different, because it uses real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.

Statistics provided by research from 24/7 Wall St.

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