Taxes: The very word strikes anger in the hearts of many for one reason or another. Americans have a general idea of where their tax dollars go, and what goods they pay taxes on. In fact, most states have a sales tax, so in essence, every product a person in those states purchase is taxed. Many people have no issue with this, as long as they know their money is going somewhere beneficial and the rate isn’t too high, but few Americans are aware of just how much of their money is funding products and projects that promote an unhealthy way of life.

The argument of farm subsidies is an interesting one. The idea is that Americans will pay taxes to help fund farms, thus lowering the price of the product they are selling. Regardless of how a person may feel about the benefits (or lack thereof) of this process, vegetarians and vegans would not be happy to find out that more than 60 percent of the tax dollars that go toward farm subsidies actually don’t do anything to help fund their primary source of nutrition – fruits and vegetables. No, that number is far smaller: less than 1 percent of the foods that subsidies support are fruits and vegetables. The lion’s share of that subsidy money funds meat and dairy products.

From 1995 to 2005, that number was even greater at over 70 percent, which helps explain why a Big Mac costs less than a salad. There should be little argument that national dietary guidelines recommend consumers cut meat and dairy intake, and increase intake of fruit and vegetables, mostly for the sake of the health of the country. And considering the generally wide differences in costs and benefits to health, as well as the difference in obesity rates among Americans and the rest of the world, it’s a little strange that more people haven’t taken a closer look at just what kind of damage they are causing themselves (and their wallets) and what can be done to change this.

Neal Barnard, M.D., is part of one of many groups actively trying to get Congress and the rest of America to listen. As the president for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Barnard sent a letter highlighting the incredible discrepancies in dollar amounts and resulting health problems to Congress with the hope that they would listen.agriculture_subsidies2-300x274

“As a physician, I urge you to shut down federal programs that pump billions of dollars into direct and indirect subsidies for meat, sugar, and other unhealthy products that are feeding record levels of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other health problems that kill and disable millions of Americans every year,” wrote Dr. Barnard. “Most taxpayers have no idea that they subsidize unhealthy foods, but the disturbing facts are laid out in a new chart produced by our organization that accompanies this letter.”

The resulting cost of such an unhealthy diet as a direct result of these subsidies is startling: over 75 percent of all illnesses are diet-related. What Barnard told House and Senate agriculture committees should not have been a surprise; in 2003, the Congressional Budget Office suggested that obesity costs the United States over $117 billion. By 2030, the annual medical cost for cardiovascular disease alone is projected to triple to an unsustainable $818 billion. This will continue to impact healthcare costs far more than it already has.

Subsidies for live stock were originally intended to be a temporary solution for farms that were collapsing in the 1930s, and they were helpful to approximately 25 percent of the population. Today, farmers account for about 1 percent of the population, and most of the subsidy dollars assist large agribusiness, not small, local family crop farmers.

So while subsidies are intended to be consumer and taxpayer-friendly, by and large, the current method of subsidizing ends up costing Americans billions more in higher taxes and food costs. And vegetarians won’t find much solace in the fact that most of their hard-earned money is not helping the local farmer that they buy their organic crops from, but is feeding one of the three companies that process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef. It’s a sobering reality, and Dr. Barnard can’t change the minds of Americans on his own. What are your thoughts on this?