Fact-check: Does the U.S. Spend More on Potato Chips than Energy Research?

Construction crews work in Roanoke County, Virginia, in June to make a tunnel to run the Mountain Valley Pipeline under the highway. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a permit required to temporarily dam four of West Virginia’s rivers on Tuesday. Photo: Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times via AP

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said in a recent tweet that “our country spends more on potato chips than we do on ALL energy R&D,” or research and development.

That struck us as a creative comparison. But is it correct? We took a closer look. (McKinley’s office did not respond to an inquiry.)

Odd pairing or not, we discovered that the comparison has been circulating for almost a decade, appearing in a 2010 report published by the National Academy of Sciences.

The report said, “United States consumers spend significantly more on potato chips than the government devotes to energy R&D.” It cited a 2009 U.S. potato chip sales figure of $7.1 billion and federal government spending on energy R&D totaling $5.1 billion.

We wondered whether the data was roughly the same today.

For potato chip sales we located a study by the market research publisher Packaged Facts that pegged U.S. potato chip sales in 2015 at $7.5 billion.

As for research funding, the amount allocated to the U.S. Energy Department’s Office of Science in fiscal year 2018 was $5.4 billion. And not all that amount was for energy research specifically; some went for nuclear physics and computing technology.

So potato chip sales in the United States almost certainly continues to exceed what the federal government spends on energy research.

Our ruling

McKinley tweeted, “Our country spends more on potato chips than we do on ALL energy R&D.” This nearly decade-old comparison still holds up today. We rate it True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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