07.26.07

Corn, the great uniter.

Posted in Society at 11:37 by RjZ

According to Corn World, the national corn growers’ website, the sale price of corn is up to an all time high. That’s probably due to ethanol. It’s really quite impressive that corn is finally almost worth growing again. After all, corn is the largest U.S. crop by acreage (76million acres), the U.S. grows more corn than any other nation (even China) and exports farm more than any other nation (more than all the other nations combined.) Corn yield haven’t changed significantly either. Holding steady at nearly 12 bushels per acre (now almost 15 bushels per acre) for 20 years. In spite of all that growth, there are fewer and fewer corn farmers each year.

Today, the Congress will vote on the Farm Bill. Lobbyists from the National Corn Growers and others will argue that agriculture is a dangerous business with unpredictable yields, even though that 20 year run described on their own website says otherwise. They will argue that the Farm Bill keeps our nation’s food supply safe and cheap. And at the end of the day the administration will sign the bill saying that they added money for renewables (a 1.2% increase! Wow! Um, or not) but that they kept the bill from getting too much larger. When President Bush signs the bill, he’ll be signing a check (in your name!) for:

$623,463,000,000!

Let’s repeat that. $623 billion dollars.

$439 billion is for the food stamp program, to be fair, but most cheap foods have corn in the one way or another anyway, so Cargill and the few other huge growers still get their cut.

It turns out that the Farm Bill is really the great Uniter. As reported on NPR, the left and the right find common ground in their dislike for it. The left points out that two thirds of the left over $1.8 bil goes to biggest, wealthiest 10% of the “farmers.” Farmers is in quote because the National Corn Growers Association and others would like you to picture a wholesome middle American family in overalls, but the reality is that it’s big, big agribusiness who’s getting your hard earned tax dollars. David Beckman of Bread for the World stresses the Farm Bill keeps prices artificially low which hurts foreign farmers and does little for the poor in this nation because most of your billions of dollars go to agribusiness. Meanwhile, on the far right, Damien Moore of Taxpayers With Common Sense (follow that link, they sum it up well) points out that “the market is kinder to poor people than badly spent government money.”

The farm bill causes or contributes to the following:

• Distorts the market price for food, particularly corn.
• Leads to over production.
• Hurts the environment by fostering factory farming, monoculture growing and over fertilization (a fossil product which pollutes our nation’s water).
• Subsidizing for the already wealthy agribusiness
• Encouraging food with little nutritional value.

The goal of the Farm Bill is ostensibly to keep the nation’s food supply safe and cheap. It has failed on both counts. Food borne illness from E. Coli and others is on the rise. Highly concentrated, centralized food production increases threat of damage or even terrorism to our food supply. Food has remained cheap over the last few decades. Americans pay less for their food as a percentage of income than nearly every other nation. In fact, food is quite a bit cheaper than it ought to be (although, food prices, now so dependent on fossil fuels, show a variation and dependance on, of all things, foreign oil!) Except, it isn’t actually cheaper. In addition to the $1.8 bill tax premium each of us helps to pay to keep the food cheap, we haven’t begun to account for environmental damage, global warming, and health costs that may be attributed to our centralized, industrialized food system.

There is no need to go organic, or become vegetarian, although those things might reduce the risks we face. Instead, simply dismantling this subsidized enemy of free trade known as the Farm Bill would go a long way towards changing the broken system we find ourselves a part of. Food prices at the grocery store would increase, to be sure, but we’re already bearing that cost in unseen ways. Perhaps if we could actually see it, we would be better informed about the critical decisions we make everyday about what we eat.

Don’t bet on it though. No one thinks that the Congress will do anything but yield to the tremendous bi-partisan pressure of the industrial food lobby.

3 Comments »

  1. Rachel Robson said,

    July 30, 2007 at 14:06

    Small thing: You write, ” …the sale price of corn is up to an all time high. That’s probably due to methanol.

    I think you mean ethanol, not methanol. Ethanol is the fuel additive that’s produced (albeit, as you note, not very efficiently) from corn; methanol is a totally different alcohol, with different uses. Like, for instance, ethanol is the kind of alcohol that we drink in beer/wine/whiskey, while methanol is deadly if consumed by humans.

    That’s all for now. :)

  2. RjZ said,

    July 31, 2007 at 5:25

    First: Yay! Nice to see Rachel again. Second: thanks!. Third: duh. I can be so stupid sometimes.

  3. Aaron said,

    August 2, 2007 at 6:32

    Is it Schadenfreude or Masochism
    to find that final bit of irony humorous.

    It seems to suggest
    that researching energy
    directly from the sun
    is the best way to avoid
    draining energy stored
    in nature.

    Although thinking of ways like this:

    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/crowdfarm-0725.html

    to be more efficient
    with biologically stored
    solar energy
    might be
    (bad pun alert)
    steps in the right direction.

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