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Agricultural Subsidies' Impact on Health Emphasized in New Institute of Medicine Report
June 24, 2011

Federal agricultural subsidies impact public health. That’s according to a report the Institute of Medicine Committee on Public Health Strategies to Improve Health released this week. The report states that federal agriculture subsidies are enacted mainly with agricultural, economic, and trade objectives in mind, while the connection to health is overlooked.

Where the Money Goes: The Foods That Subsidies Support

Although some lawmakers consider agricultural subsidies “non-health” policy, the IOM report says that we can’t continue to ignore subsidies’ relation to public health.

The authors list legal and policy tools that could improve public health—including deregulation to “end subsidies of agricultural products that contribute to unhealthy eating, including corn, soy used for feed, meat, and dairy.”

The report also cites “examples of public policies that can facilitate the prevention of cardiovascular disease at the most upstream or distal level possible.” These include regulations in the EU “that have shifted government agricultural subsidies in ways that are designed to change national nutritional patterns or norms, such as away from an emphasis on meat and dairy and toward fresh fruits and vegetables.”

PCRM’s recent report “Agriculture and Health Policies in Conflict: How Subsidies Tax our Health,” also examines cardiovascular disease and other health problems and policy factors that influence them.

Cardiovascular disease is much more common in populations whose diets emphasize meat, cheese, and other animal-derived food products, and less common among those whose diets emphasize plant-derived foods. More than 80 million people in the United States have cardiovascular disease, and approximately 2,300 Americans die every day from it. The cost of cardiovascular disease in the United States in 2010 was $273 billion. In 2030, it’s projected to be $818 billion.

Until the United States enacts regulations similar to those in the EU that align our agricultural policies with our diet and health goals, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic disease rates will continue to rise—along with the cost to treat them. It’s commendable that the IOM had the courage to state this obvious, deliberate inconsistency, but it’s contemptible that they needed to.


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