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Economic Sense

RSS By: Matt Bogard, AgWeb.com

Matt's primary interest is in the biotech industry and ag policy.

Pollan's Big Ideas about Big Food

Sep 10, 2009
By Matt Bogard

I checked the AgWeb blog posts this morning and noticed Mr. Cornett's AgWeb Out to Pasture Blog post about the piece by Michael Pollan in today's New York Times.   In short Pollan claims that farm 'subsidies' are leading to obesity, and in the face of health care reform insurance companies will form a new political force opposed to farm programs.

Pollan, in a lot of his writings tries to make connection between corn syrup and obesity and 'subsidies.'  I would like to know exactly which 'subsidies' he is talking about. I'm not sure that countercyclical payment or loan deficiency payment type programs at the farm gate level really have an impact at the retail level great enough to create super savings and increased consumption of these 'bad' foods.

Research related to the claim of a connection between obesity and farm policy can be found here( from UC Davis).

"Given that consumers generally show limited responses to retail food price changes, eliminating the corn subsidy would reduce corn-based food consumption by at most 0.2 percent."

Pollan also proposes a food tax to curb consumption. Again, research ( from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University) indicates that the taxes required to have any real affect on obesity would be in the 1200 percent range, and even if taxes eliminated ( in this case soda) consumption, the impact on obesity would be very small. The study concludes that "the sensitivity of individuals to changes in relative food prices is not sufficient to make “fat taxes” a viable tool to lower obesity."

To coin a phrase 'what's obesity got to do with the price of corn in Iowa'?- Not much.

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