By John Bauer, Co-Founder – The Foodery
August 20th 2013
Why is corn ubiquitous in the average grocery store? Two primary reasons tell most of the story. The first lies in the fact that government favoritism to the corn industry makes this crop available to food manufacturers at an unnaturally low price. Because the US government allows lobbying of special interests, Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson and many other American multinational food producers leverage their deep pockets for a favorable corn market. After successful lobbying, the ensuing Farm Bill contains taxpayer-funded subsidies which push the price of corn below its cost of production. Farms get incentivized by the government to expand their corn acreage far beyond what natural supply and demand would suggest. The second reason corn appears on so many nutrition labels speaks to how much utility corn offers to the creation of processed foods. When broken down, derivatives of corn get used as a food filler, texturizer, emulsifier, sweetener, preservative, adhesive and many other applications. Government intervention makes corn so cheap that food manufacturers earmark large budgets for research and development to invent infinite ways to push corn into more products. The most versatile corn substances like maltodextrin and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) create the highest margins for food makers and end up monopolizing the most profitable shelf at the grocery store – the eye-level shelf (waste-level shelf in the kid’s cereal aisle). Eat at any fast food or dine-in restaurant chain and avoiding corn becomes impossible. Is all this corn consumption such a bad thing? Here’s the downside to our corn dependency:
- Diabetes and Obesity – Corn is a starchy, simple carbohydrate. When a person consumes heavy amounts of glucose (sugar), the pancreas works overtime to stabilize blood sugar. Long-term consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has many obvious health implications while the average American adult now consumes over 150 pounds of sugar annually. HFCS is the cheapest and most pervasive sweetener in food today as manufacturers use it to sweeten practically all processed food and drink. After this laboratory-created sweetener was invented in 1957, it began its omnipresence into the human food supply in the 1970’s. HFCS gets produced by milling corn to produce corn starch, then processed to yield corn syrup (which is almost entirely glucose) while enzymes get added that change some of the glucose into fructose. A syrupy substance remains that yields more sweetness-per-ounce than natural sugar while its production happens at a fraction of the cost. As America’s palate shifts further to sugary foods, this pernicious sweetener not only shows up in desserts and sugary drinks, HFCS can now easily be found in “healthy” foods like yogurt, granola bars, cereal and many lunch meats.
- Pesticides and Genetic Modification – When you consume corn and its many derivatives, you consume a substance that has been contaminated with pesticides and genetically tampered with through cell invasion technology. Food and biotechnology scientists found a way to splice genes from the bacteria Bacillus Therugiensus (Bt) into the genes of the corn plant to make it fend off the root worm and other insects. Genetically modified corn was created for only one purpose – to fend off weeds and pests with inexpensive pesticides thus saving farmers millions in human labor costs. Like most genetically modified crops, corn seeds have been altered to be “RoundUp Ready” which gives the crop the unnatural ability to survive despite being sprayed with RoundUp pesticide (a chemical that can easily be found at your nearest hardware store that kills all living vegetation). Bt corn seeds are also genetically modified to sprout their own insecticide from within the plant as it grows. In fact, EPA regulation requires genetically modified corn itself (almost all the corn in America) to be registered as an insecticide. How does a food invention like this get approved for human consumption? Unlike food regulation in other countries, the American FDA allows crop seed companies to submit their products for regulatory approval along with their own health studies as evidence of human safety. The long-term health effects of genetically modified crops have never been studied. When consuming inexpensive processed foods that contain corn, it is almost guaranteed that the corn products used come from genetically modified sources and are contaminated with pesticides.
- Environmental Damage– The environmental consequences of corn production don’t just compromise human health. Knowing that a large percentage of corn tonnage goes to feeding livestock, supplying these industries with an ever-growing acreage of corn cannot continue forever. Arable soil, water, and air all suffer from corn production. Years of pesticide usage cause healthy soil to become nutrient-deficient and absent of organic matter and beneficial microorganisms. Natural water supplies get contaminated while hectares of deforestation continue to steal our rain forests to accommodate the expanding corn acreage. Corn as cattle feed is a highly inefficient source of calories for humans. For a person to receive 300 calories of energy from corn, about 11 ounces of corn would have to be consumed. For a person to receive 300 calories from a steak, a corn-fed cow needs to consume almost seven pounds of corn to make this steak calorically available to a human. The natural resources consumed to support the beef-heavy western diet continue to strain our environment in many ways. Since grass, not corn is an animal’s natural diet; grain consumption imposes digestive havoc on the cow. The methane emissions from the digestive problems of millions of cattle across the country have been linked as a major contributor to global warming. As America’s appetite for beef, corn syrup and other processed foods continues to grow, so does the environmental damage that accompanies these habits.
With government intervention and corn’s versatile utility, America continues to face the challenges of human health and environmental damage from the over production of this crop. Considering the implications to our bodies and our environment, awareness of personal corn consumption is a matter worthy of attention.
©2013 The Foodery. The Foodery crafts and delivers fresh meals made from sustainably-raised proteins and organic produce/spices. The Foodery’s fresh meals are enjoyed by many Equinox members throughout the Boston area. www.fooderyboston.com