Corn is a remarkable commodity in the food industry due to its high versatility and cheap costs. Available as a sweetener (High fructose corn syrup), cooking oil (Corn oil) and importantly feed for livestock. But what was Corn’s story then and today?
In the documentary “King Corn”, directed and produced by Aaron Woolf alongside with Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis, the vast implications of corn production was explained in the forms of social and economical impacts. All due to the hand at play of governmental policies that favor Corn production.
Corn’s story was previously that of a livelihood for farmers, now made into a centralised production covering vast acres. The variety of corns were little down due to artificial selection for corns that provide the best nutrition and yield, in its current state however, corn is largely used for yields alone.
The social costs involved in Corn lies in three main areas, the farmers, food manufacturers and consumers.
“Buy out your neighbour if he’s not willing to grow”
Independent farmers struggle to keep up with large corn farms and in a hostile takeover these farmers are robbed of their livelihood. Being unable to keep up with the advanced and subsidised equipment of centralised corn farms, these independent farms slowly died out.
Food and Beverage manufacturers are also heavily influenced by the subsidies for corn. Take high fructose corn syrup for instance, its sweetness is higher than that of table sugar (sucrose) and its cheaper as well. This makes it ideal for sodas, sauces, cakes, etc. Even bread benefits due to its good browning properties.
Due to the processing of corn into its sweetening syrup however, much of the fiber is extracted away, after the starch is broken down into its basic units and converted into fructose. The metabolism of fructose is akin to beer, and will be discussed in a future article.
The fattening properties of corn as well as its cheapness and abundance are favored in the livestock industry where the cows are robbed of their natural diet (grass) and are fed starchy corn. These cows are unable to move and are confined which lead them to become obese, so that the maximum yield of meat can be taken before their slaughter.
This practice leads the cow to develop acidosis (excessive blood acidity) as they fall ill. Allen Trenkle of Iowa State University have mentioned that 70% of the world’s antibiotics goes to livestock. This is so that they may survive such a diet and confinement, else they would die prematurely.
These factors combined proves detrimental to the average consumer and worse off for the poor. Due mostly to the heavy subsidies, many of the cheapest and affordable foods are loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup, an empty caloric sweetener that is used widely. Cheap meats eaten are taken from obese cattles fed a diet high in corn, degrading the quality of meat as most of its caloric content comes from fats.
The very same reason that corn are fed to cattle are the same reason that obesity and other related illnesses are on the rise in developed countries.
The economical impacts of corn production is in some ways due to the subsidises itself. Corn production is actually not profitable, a farmer would have incurred losses even if all corns were sold at its highest possible yield. The government however, by means of policies make the process profitable by resulting in a net gain after subsidies.
This in turn results in a continuous demand for a large supply of corn due to the secured profitability. The reality is that the corn itself is not palatable without processing and by artificial selection, the corn’s were bred for maximum yield and not nutrition. So with the subsidises going mainly to corn, many Americans are deprived of cheaper nutritious food.
In the food industry, all that glitters is not necessarily gold as demonstrated by corn, it represents a grain that has integrated into numerous food systems due to the influence of subsidises. It represents another form of gold, that can be harness from its cheap productions and food manufacturers produce by demand and costs.
It is only most unfortunate that the primary target of the subsidises are on a crop that acts as a bane for many consumers in developed or developing countries, as they slowly succumb to the non-nutritive properties of the various corn products.