Monday, September 15, 2008

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Ezra Klein writes:
Over the past 10 years alone, Congress has appropriated more than $50 billion to encourage farmers to grow the stuff. But people don't want to eat $50 billion in subsidized corn. And if the cobs just sat around developing mold, Congress would cut off the spigot. Enter high fructose corn syrup, which sucks up the subsidies and created a world in which calories from a sweet, highly caloric additive have become the cheapest of all energy sources. That's the primary way the syrup contributes to obesity: Not by being more fattening, but by being so heavily subsidized that it makes it far cheaper to sustain yourself on sweetened carbohydrates than on nutritious food.
I agree that the federal government shouldn't be subsidizing corn growers at all . . . if we have to subsidize anything, it should be vegetables and fruits, not grains. But Ezra seems wrong in saying that it is "far cheaper to sustain yourself on sweetened carbohydrates than on nutritious food." It's virtually a tautology that processed carbohydrates like high-fructose corn syrup are used only in highly processed foods. And highly processed foods tend to be more expensive, both because of the processing involved and because they tend to be branded products that are heavily advertised. On a per-pound basis, staples like potatoes, apples, rice, beans, etc., are cheaper than most processed carbohydrates (such as cereal, candy, cookies, granola bars, etc.). By my rough calculation from past grocery trips, for the price of three large boxes of Oreos, I could typically buy two dozen eggs, a gallon of whole milk, a pound of apples, and a package of brown rice. So I'm not sure why Ezra thinks it would be "far cheaper to sustain" yourself on the Oreos (even if it's the case that Oreos would be more expensive absent subsidization for corn production).


Blogger John Thacker said...

Well, this is not the case with fresh fruits, but several of the foods you listed require cooking and preparation time, which the Oreos (and fresh fruits) do not. Prepared food items also tend to last for a long time, reducing the losses due to spoilage that can occur with fresh fruits (particularly berries).

I can't say that it definitely makes a difference, but it is a factor.

1:16 PM  
Blogger mgarbowski said...

At the same time our government subsidizes high fructose corn syrup, we place high tariffs on imported sugar. Eliminate both, and most processed carbs probably use sugar instead of the corn syrup, and with the lower natural cost of sugar, the cost of the processed foods might not be all that different.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What if you calculated by calories instead of pounds?

12:03 AM  

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