Farm Policies and Added Sugars in US Diets

John C. Beghin, Helen H. Jensen
February 2008  [08-WP 462]

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Suggested citation:

Beghin, J.C. and H.H. Jensen. 2008. "Farm Policies and Added Sugars in US Diets." Working paper 08-WP 462. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University.


Major changes in the use of US sweeteners have occurred since 1970, in both the amount and composition. Increased consumption of caloric sweeteners, especially in beverages, has been linked to excess energy intake and lower-quality diets. We examine how US farm policies (specifically agricultural research and development [R&D] expenditures and commodity programs) have affected the consumption and composition of sweeteners in the US diet. R&D expenditures have lowered the unit cost of most commodities and increased their use in food production, ceteris paribus, although corn has benefited more than sugar crops in the technical progress. Commodity programs have raised the price of sugar and decreased the price of corn; high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) became an inexpensive substitute for sugar in food beginning in 1970. However, the effect of this change in the price of ingredients has become less important over time. Today the farm value share in sweetened food is very small (below 5%), and HFCS has become a specialized input in many food items. Countries with different or no commodity programs experience similar increases in consumption of added sugar. We conclude that the current link between the US consumption of caloric sweeteners and farm policy is tenuous, although historically the link was stronger.

Keywords: added sugar, agricultural policy, caloric, corn, diet, farm policies, HFCS, subsidy, sugar, sweetener.

JEL classification: Q18, D12, I18