Power to the Plate: Food Subsidies Should Reflect New USDA Dietary Advice
This morning, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the long-awaited replacement for the Food Pyramid. The new MyPlate icon is a plate, somewhat similar to the Power Plate developed and released by PCRM more than a year ago.
The USDA’s new plate diagram should have a huge impact on the debate over the massive subsidies for unhealthy foods distributed under the Farm Bill, which are now being debated in Congress.
In some ways, the new USDA plate is a step forward from MyPyramid, the vague and confusing federal nutrition diagram introduced in 2005. The USDA’s plate, for example, clearly recommends that Americans fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables.
PCRM has been calling for such straightforward recommendations for many years. Earlier this year, PCRM sued the USDA over confusing language in the new Dietary Guidelines. We also urged the government to consider replacing MyPyramid with the Power Plate, a simple, colorful graphic depicting a plate divided into four food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
The protein portion of the USDA's MyPlate is unnecessary, because beans, whole grains, and vegetables are loaded with it. And it is a shame that MyPlate reserves a special place for dairy products, which are packed with fat and cholesterol and may increase the risk of health problems ranging from asthma to some types of cancer. There are many more healthful sources of calcium.
But for taxpayers and members of Congress, the new plate has a special significance. There’s a stark contrast between the USDA’s plate and federal food subsidies. While the USDA’s plate encourages fruit and vegetable consumption and advises Americans to limit high-fat products like meat and cheese, federal agriculture subsidies do exactly the opposite: They spend billions of dollars promoting production of high-fat, high-calorie food products.
In recent history, the federal government has spent about $16 billion a year on agricultural subsidies. Less than 1 percent has gone to fruits and vegetables.
These figures are especially galling when you realize that the taxpayer-funded food system is literally making us sick. More than 60 percent of the deaths in the United States are caused by heart disease, cancer, and other diet-related diseases. Approximately 68 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. In 2008, the direct medical costs associated with obesity added up to $147 billion.
It’s time for Congress to fix this problem and address our country’s epidemics of obesity and other health problems.