The Connecticut Public Interest Research Group’s new report concludes it’s possible to tackle the obesity epidemic and the national debt by changing how the U.S. Department of Agriculture handles food subsidies.

A report released by the group Wednesday at the Farmer’s Market in Hartford includes a finding that since 1995 more than $18.2 billion in federal taxpayer subsidies have gone to junk food, which is the equivalent of 21 Twinkies for every taxpayer, every single year. In contrast, only $637 million have gone to subsidizing apples, which is the equivalent of giving every taxpayer in America half an apple. 

Connecticut’s share of taxpayer subsidies for junk food is about $12 million a year, compared to about $430,000 in subsidies for apples. That’s enough to buy 33.29 million Twinkies, but only about 887,555 apples.

At a time when America is facing an obesity epidemic, crushing debt, and a bad economy, we’re spending over $1 billion a year subsidizing junk food, Marc Walsh, ConnPIRG campaign director, said Wednesday.

The report points out that the $18.2 billon in subsidies have gone to common food additives such as corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils. Apples are the only fruit or vegetable to receive a significant government subsidy.

“These are more than empty calories. They’re just fillers and I really can’t think of a worse way to spend taxpayer dollars than subsidizing junk food,” Walsh said.

He pointed out that obesity has tripled over the three decades, with one in five kids ages 6 to 11 considered obese. Being obese contributes to heart disease and expanding medical costs.

Since 1995 taxpayers have spend more than $277 billion in agricultural subsidies with most of the payments going to the biggest farm operations, Walsh said. Only about 3.8 percent of the subsidies go to local farmers and of that Connecticut receives almost nothing. Ninety-three percent of Connecticut farms receive no subsidy at all, ranking the state 49th.

Jonathan Janeway and his wife, Charlotte Ross, are owners of Sweet Acre Farm in Mansfield. They are first generation farmers on their second growing season and they are part of the 93 percent.

As part of a farm community in eastern Connecticut, Janeway said neither he or his colleagues receive any subsidies to farm. And he doesn’t know if they would accept them, even if offered, because subsidies skew public perception of pricing.

Janeway doesn’t feel his prices are high, but commodity prices are so artificially low that the economical choice for consumers becomes Twinkies, rather than vegetables or fruit.

Farm subsidies support the big producers of commodity crops who are “privatizing their profit, and socializing all the costs,” he said.

The vegetables Janeway and Ross grow and sell don’t have the adverse health affects on the public at large as the junk food industry.

“Cheap food really isn’t cheap,” Janeway said. “It comes with a cost.”

The Farmers’ Markets in Hartford and West Hartford that Janeway is involved with both accept food stamps. And depending on the time of year, about 15 to 20 percent of their customers use food stamps, he said.

“It’s significant and it certainly feels good to be providing it to people who need it,” Janeway said explaining that low-income individuals have fewer choices.

If taxpayers were given the subsidies they would have $7.58 to spend on Twinkies and only 27 cents to spend on apples, according to the report.

With the Farm Bill expiring in September, Walsh said now is the perfect time to start reforming the way Congress thinks about farm subsidies.