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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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July 17th, 2013
06:04 PM ET

Report: Government subsidizing junk food ingredients

A new report suggests the federal government is funding Americans' bulging waistlines, subsidizing many of the ingredients that make junk food so irresistible.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Groups study found that since 1995, more than $19 billion of tax payer money subsidized four common food additives: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, and soy oils. At just over $7 per taxpayer per year, that would buy each taxpayer about 20 Twinkies.

But taxpayers spent just $689 million subsidizing apples, the only fresh fruit that gets significant federal support at a cost of $0.26 per taxpayer per year – that would buy less than half of one Red Delicious apple.

It shouldn't be this way, says Georgetown professor Tom Sherman.

"What has worked with alcohol and with cigarettes is to make them more expensive. So if we want people to eat healthy, we should make unhealthy foods more expensive and we should make healthy foods cheaper," said Sherman. "We should provide subsidies or assistance in the production of fruits and vegetables. We should encourage local farmers to set aside parts of their fields for the production of fruits and vegetables."

Many small farmers disagree with the way subsidies work.

Oliver Keckler's family grows mostly fruits and vegetables in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He says corn subsidies distort the market.

"If you get my family talking about corn, we could talk for hours about it. Because we raise too much corn in this country. We put it into everything," said Keckler, who said farmers focus on corn "because they're getting subsidies from the government, it keeps the price up. You know, you can get $7 a bushel when it really should be down at $3. But the government has it locked in at a higher price."

That higher priced corn means more food additives and cheap junk food.

An official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture told CNN that this study underscores the need for a new farm bill that would reform some of these programs and give more support to fruit and vegetable producers.

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