Hidden Tragedies behind Corn in America

김혜인 기자l승인2020.09.03l0호

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Hidden Tragedies behind Corn in America The middle and western region of the U.S.A is highly suitable for certain crops in terms of climate and geography. Corn is one of these crops, and a large part of this area is called the Corn Belt. This area accounts for 43% of the world's corn production. Commercialized and mechanized farming allows the US to produce corn on a huge scale, which enables the US to cultivate corn easily. However, there is a problem dealing with imprudent measures on the consumption of overproduced corn. Let’s look into the politics and economics in the US in the areas of corn production and consumption. Do you know which crop is used in common in the production of French fries, ice cream, coke, bourbon, and steaks? Surprisingly, it is corn. Corn oil is used for French fries. Coke and ice cream contains High-Fructose Corn Syrup(HFCS), which is added in almost all processed food. It is much cheaper than sugar that comes from sugar cane, and it is 6 times higher in sugar content. Overconsumption of HFCS can help lead to obesity, diabetes and other adult onset diseases, and it is especially bad for the liver. HFCS secretes the hormone Leptin and it causes the human brain to feel hungry. As a result, it can lead to overeating. Bourbon is a whiskey made from corn, and of course overconsumption of whiskey results in obvious problems. However, there are many more problems associated with beef steak. As corn has been produced in bulk, forage corn has been substituted for forage grass in breeding cattle. Corn allows cows to grow rapidly, up to two times faster than those fed by grass. A quarter of the total world production of corn is being used in producing food for cows. Cows were originally sustained by grass, which was digested in their four chamber stomachs. When cows consume corn, which is high in starch and low in fiber, their stomachs don’t function properly. Their stomachs expand and their lungs are stressed. Forage corn can also lead to hyperacidity. The acid demolishes the stomach walls, and bacteria gets into the blood, which then proceeds to the liver. The bacteria forms hepatic abscess and deteriorates liver function. This has led to beef producers to administer antibiotics to them. We in turn eat that beef. Another problem is environmental. Because of their inability to digest these crops, they emit a high volume of excrement and gases. In addition to these foods, most foods contain ingredients based on corn in America. Therefore, Americans are closely connected with corn more than any other modern people. Corn in America The US ranks first in corn production. It produces 350 million tons annually. Corn can grow anywhere, so there is less cost and production has drastically increased. GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) corn has also contributed to higher levels of production, and they are resistant to blight. The No.1 corn cultivation area stretches throughout middle and western America. It is called the Corn Belt, and the total area is 4 times larger than South Korea and larger than Japan. There are primarily large corporate farms here, very few small private farmers remain. Production and Consumption of Corn America accounted for 43% of the world’s corn production and 66% of total corn exports. Only 2% of it is raised for actual consumption in its original form. Due to the nature of commodities, high demand brings an increase in prices and oversupply leads to the collapse of prices. In 2005, the total corn output exceeded expected demand in America. It raised many political and social problems. Therefore, the US needed to take measures to boost the demand for corn. Under the slogan of "Let's drink corn," the US promoted bourbon whiskey over basic whiskey which is made from barley about 100 years ago. Then, they discovered how to produce HFCS at an institute for food research in the state of Iowa in the mid 1950's. Pepsi put the syrup in its cola and they were able to produce sweeter flavored sodas. Coca-cola subsequently added syrup in their products in 1980. In addition, the US designed new plans to consume corn by feeding cattle. One cow can consume 12 kg of corn per day. At the end of January 2006, the former U.S. president Bush announced a plan for large scale production of bio-ethanol. The US used 45.1% of total corn output in 2007 according to the Department of Agriculture. Bio-ethanol is primarily made from starch crops such as sugar cane, wheat, corn, potatoes, and barley. It is considered to be favorable to oil based fuels because it doesn't emit pollutants and it is sustainable because it is derived from plants. It has gained attention as an alternative energy source. However, there are still several serious concerns. Corn Consumption in America One of the biggest problems deals with corn-based ethanol. Former president Bush announced that the US would produce 132 billion liters of ethanol by 2017. In fact, 310 million tons of corn is needed to make that much ethanol. Total corn production was reportedly 350 million tons in 2007. 335 million tons of corn will be used in 2010. It is one-third of the total corn output. It seems like an unreasonable projection. Furthermore, in order to generate 1L of bio-ethanol, the same volume of petroleum is necessary for using vehicles like tractors and cultivators. This aspect shows how inefficient this project is. Concerns about pollution are also increasing. 75% of chemical fertilizers and 57% of herbicides in America are sprayed on fields. According to a research finding in Bioscience, reduction effects by using bio-fuels canceled out the negative effects during the process of producing corn-based ethanol. While demand for corn-based ethanol increases, the volume of forests and land converted to farmlands for planting corn also increases. Levels of CO2 and N2O have consequently increased. GMO corn also presents a potential problem. 85% of corn growing areas in America raise GMO crops. This is an increase of 5 percent compared with the previous year. GMO crops are economically feasible, but they have provoked constant controversy over safety. As an absolutely competitive enterprise in GMO, Monsanto has brought out new issues. It accounts for 90% of domestic soybean and 80% of the corn market share. However, weeds that are resistant to new herbicides are continually appearing. Farmlands in Monsanto are now reusing outdated herbicides which give rise to ground water pollution. Production costs have also risen rapidly. A book entitled “The World According to Monsanto” presents a history of the GMO producing company Monsanto. According to the book, GMOs were not invented to address shortages of food but for the company's benefit. Monsanto developed it in order to sell their herbicide "Roundup" in the long term. Moreover, the book insists the total output would not increase compared with existing seeds. At the beginning of its research, risks were exposed. However, documents regarding the danger of GMOs were concealed systematically by Monsanto. Finally, the US is having trouble disposing of surplus produce, on the other hand, third world countries are struggling with poverty and starvation. Isn't it possible to send the surplus corn to them? The book “Freedom from Want: The Human Right to Adequate Food” addresses this question. The book mentions that famine occurs due to structural problems. Excessive livestock industry for developed countries is one of the reasons. It also mentions the structure of circulation of the world's grain. Huge grain dealers exaggerate prices artificially. For that reason, European countries dispose of food in large amounts on account of excessive production. They also limit the farm produce to maintain prices and protect farmers. Wars and corruption under dictatorships also make the situation worse. The destruction of the environment and the ensuing natural disasters also create famine. Finally, the colonial legacy which yields no remedies reinforces the continuing tragedies in these countries. Corn and Politics As enormous amounts of corn are produced in the US, corn has a profound effect on politics as well. During the US presidential election, representatives are elected separately in every state. The first state to hold a caucus for selecting presidential nominees holds an important position. Iowa leads the nation in corn production and has a population of 2.9 million. It has a relatively sparse population, but the state is a source of powerful influence when it comes to corn. Iowa is the first state to hold a caucus for selecting presidential nominees, so farming corporations act in collusion with politicians. Iowa contributes 2.5 billion dollars to domestic finance through the production of ethanol. Looking into politicians’ stances on corn-based ethanol is interesting. Hillary Clinton cast a dissenting vote for projects dealing with the increased production of bio-ethanol 17 times. However, intriguingly, she mentioned in Iowa that ethanol is the only choice to reduce reliance on oil. John McCain had insisted that ethanol would do little to help, but he shifted his stance in Iowa. He said he was against offering subsidies, but it was worthy as an alternative fuel. Barack Obama asserted facilitating development of alternative energies. A political beltline is connected from Iowa. Although most politicians recognize that the value of corn-based ethanol as a viable alternative fuel is pure fiction and reckless, they never advocate policies against it. That is because it is fatal to oppose ethanol when it comes to attracting votes from Midwestern farming areas and environmentalists. Corn and the Economy The US government grants the highest subsidies for farmers in the world. This appears to be part of an effort for strengthening political positions in the Corn Belt. The government provides 16.2 billion dollars of subsidies annually. Of all agricultural grants, rice accounts for 70%, raw cotton 44%, corns 42%, beans 28%. Ten percent of the farming population takes up half the subsidies. It has brought about a big gap between rich and poor in the field of agriculture. These subsidies changed the pattern of farming. Small and medium-sized farms collapsed and farms became reorganized into large-scale farming enterprises. Moreover, about 2 million independent farmers turned into wage workers. Corn is produced easily in the vast farmland of the US and it is used in a variety of products such as bio-ethanol, processed foods, cattle feed, and even drinks. It is bound up with political and economic matters as well as the American lifestyle. It is also added and transformed in some foods, so it is often blamed for the destruction of health in people and animals. In addition to being an energy source for physical activity, it is also used as alternative energy replacing oil to provide people with comfortable lives. However, corn is consumed inefficiently on one side of earth, and it is desperately needed for the third world nation's population. Let's face reality and find realistic and practical uses for corn worldwide.
김혜인 기자  uliettekim90@naver.com
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