Junk Food Critic Is Fat-Subsidy Protector


Sen. Tom Harkin, enemy of childhood obesity and scourge of marketers who target children with junk-food commercials, is likely to make a few folks squirm on Tuesday in Washington.

He’s addressing a regulatory conference that includes the American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, and the American Association of Advertising Agencies -- not the biggest fans of a lawmaker who last month threatened to push for federal regulation of kid-oriented junk-food commercials.

But if Harkin supersizes his criticism of the marketers, they might be tempted to quiz him about his reaction to critics who say an essential ingredient in the American obesity problem is government agriculture subsidies.

Some researchers such as James Tillotson, professor of food policy and international business at Tufts University, argue that subsidies result in the oversupply of commodities that can foster bad diets.

Corn, soybeans and wheat -- grown by agribusiness with the help of massive subsidies -- are used, for instance, in sweetened drinks (corn syrup), hydrogenated oil (soybeans) and hamburgers (grain-fed beef and nice, fluffy buns).
And the subsidized prices make healthier but subsidy-deprived fruits and vegetables seem too expensive.

As the junior senator from the farm state of Iowa and as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Harkin has few higher priorities than protecting the $30 billion in annual subsidies the federal government hands to growers.

One current battle:  fending off the Bush Administration’s attempt to cut ag subsidies 17% by 2010.