Why is Corn in Everything?

October 22, 2010

Watching the documentary Food, Inc. yesterday, reminded me of an article I read a few months back called ‘How Corn Conquered America’, by Michael Pollan. It talked about how corn has worked its’ way into many aspects of the food industry. The article says “Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes your steak. Corn feeds the chickens and the pig. Corn feeds the catfish raised in a fish farm. Corn-fed chickens laid the eggs. Corn feeds the dairy cows that produce the milk, cheese, and ice cream. Chicken nuggets are really corn wrapped up in more corn. If you wash down your chicken nuggets with almost any soft drink, you are drinking corn with your corn.” But how did this happen?

In the 30s, seed companies came up with a hybrid corn seed. The combination was one type of corn that resists diseases, with another type that produces a lot of ears. Hybrid corn quadrupled the yields of farmers, from about 20 bushels per acre to 80. As yields grew and farmers grew more corn, prices plummeted. Suddenly it was cheaper to feed cattle corn, instead of hay or grass. It was also cheaper to feed corn to chickens and hogs. Agribusiness needs cheap corn, because they use it to make processed food and hundreds of other products. To keep the corn coming, agribusiness depends on government regulations. The government will give payments to farmers for all the corn they can grow, but not for growing fruits and vegetables. So what’s a farmer to do? Grow corn.

Here are the high(low)lights from the article:

  • Maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, ascorbic acid, citric acid, xanthan gum, sorbitol, lecithin, golden food coloring, and mono-, di-, & triglycerides are all made of corn.
  • There are approximately 45,000 items in the average supermarket. More than 1/4 of them now contain corn. This goes for non-food items as well – including toothpaste, cosmetics, diapers, trash bags & batteries.
  • Corn is the most widely planted crop in America. More than 80 million acres of farmland are planted with corn every year. Corn covers more acres of the country than any other living species – including humans.
  • About 1/10 of the U.S. corn crop ends up in processed foods.
  • Corn has pushed other plants and animals off the American farm.
  • After WWII the government had a huge surplus of ammonium nitrate (leftover bomb material). They weren’t sure what to do with it. Scientists in the Dept. of Agriculture had the idea to spread it on farmland as fertilizer. This was the birth of the chemical fertilizer industry.
  • The use of ammonium nitrate fertilizer puts a lot of excess nitrogen in the environment. Some evaporates into the air, where it creates acid rain. Some turns into nitrous oxide, a gas that increases global warming. Some seeps down into the groundwater. Some of the nitrogen is washed off the fields by rain, where it eventually reaches the ocean. This flood of extra nitrogen causes a wild growth of algae, with eats up all the oxygen in the water. Nitrogen runoff has already created a hypoxic dead zone the size of New Jersey, in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • American farmers are caught in a trap. When prices fall, the only way they can stay in business is to find a way to grow even more corn. This typically involves bigger farms, worked by fewer farmers, and more fertilizer pollution.
  • The industrial food chain is an economic disaster for farmers. Growing nothing but corn has damaged the soil of our farmlands, polluted the water, and threatened the health of the animals downstream. Not to mention the billions of animals that live on factory farms because of it.
  • If you eat corn directly, you consume all the energy in that corn. When that corn is fed to a steer or chicken, 90% of its energy is lost.

Corn also plays a big role in the modern (factory) farm. Michael Pollan says “Now that corn has driven cattle off of farms, they’re living someplace called a feedlot, or CAFO: concentrated animal feeding operation. As you might guess from its name, the goal of a CAFO is to feed (and fatten) cattle as quickly as possible, so they can fulfill their destiny between the halves of a hamburger bun.” Ugh. When stated like that, you realize what a sad destiny cattle have. Corn is a great way to fatten up cattle in a hurry. The only problem is cows get sick on a corn diet. So feedlot cattle receive a steady stream of antibiotics. According to the article, about 70% of the antibiotics in the U.S. are fed to livestock. Constant exposure to antibiotics means that feedlot bacteria (like E.coli) mutate into stronger, drug-resistant strands of superbacteria. This is dangerous to the people who eat the infected meat.

Like most food items, corn is healthiest in its most natural form. The best way to consume corn, is straight off the cob. Unfortunately, if you eat meat or any processed food, you’re really eating more corn. “You are what you eat, it’s often said. If this is true, then what we are today is mostly corn.” -Michael Pollan

Here is a link to the article: (www.musemagkids.com/new/julyaugust-2010)

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Image Source: http://www.livecornfree.com/2010/05/typical-american-daywith-corn.html

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One Response to Why is Corn in Everything?

  1. Pingback: japan bans all US wheat imports - Page 9 - Christian Forums

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