By Marianne Stanley
Dayton City Paper
May 27, 2010
It’s straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting – the whole family sitting down to Sunday dinner with chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and … .corn. It’s as American as apple pie. On the cob, it’s a sought-out treat at county fairs and summer festivals. Corn is the United States’ largest crop both in volume and value. What people don’t know about corn, though, can and does hurt them. As a government subsidized staple of the American food system, it holds some dark secrets.
It is believed that the first corn originating in the Andes, later spread to Central America and up into Mexico where it was hybridized and domesticated sometime between 10,000 and 5,000 B.C. Corn didn’t reach the United States until around 600 A.D. By the time Columbus reached America, Indians grew it extensively. He ferried some back to Spain and, by 1700, it had become a major European crop. Today, corn is one of the most widely grown vegetables on Earth, with the U.S. and China leading the world in production.
Corn, Ohio’s second most valuable agricultural crop (soybeans are first), puts Ohio 6th in the U.S., right behind Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana. Yet, just a fraction of the 3-plus million acres of Ohio corn is Sweet Corn, fit for human consumption. The majority of Ohio’s and all U.S. corn is Yellow Dent Corn, which is used primarily as livestock feed and in the manufacturing of industrial products. Flint Corn, is the last corn category. It is also known as Indian or ornamental corn. And popcorn? It’s just a subcategory of Flint corn.
More than half of Ohio’s corn crop becomes animal feed, 8 percent is used for sweeteners, 5 percent for fuel (ethanol) and almost 23 percent is exported to other countries. Corn starches, corn oil, corn syrup, industrial alcohol, toothpaste, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), glue, shoe polish and a variety of plastics, used in everything from carpeting to clothing, are derived from corn. As an overabundant government-subsidized crop, companies are finding a multitude of ways to utilize corn and its byproducts. Kevin Mote Fireplaces & Stoves in Laura, Ohio, carries stoves that efficiently burn dry corn kernels without polluting the air. These multi-fuel stoves can burn corn, cherry pits or wood pellets. One advantage cited by owner Kevin is the fact that these cleaner-burning stoves can safely sit just 3 inches away from an interior wall with only a short pipe needed to vent them outside. His showroom carries multiple wood, corn and multi-fuel styles, some computerized. He or his main technician Dan Norton can be reached at (937) 947-1883 or 1-800-526-1978.
New products made from corn continue to come onto the market. Second Street Market’s “A Greener You” booth offers environmentally friendly products, including mini-composters that use small plastic biodegradable bags made from corn starch -a wonderful alternative to the plastic bags clogging our landfills. Corn starch also makes frozen pizzas possible, preventing a soggy crust. Corn syrup keeps bread and other bakery products fresher longer. Citric acid, made from corn sweeteners, prevents the browning of fruits and vegetables. Corn syrup was long ago added to lollipops and other hard candies to keep them from dripping. It also stops the formation of ice crystals in ice cream and keeps marshmallows soft. Corn Ethanol, although it burns cleaner than gasoline, is not a panacea for today’s energy problems since it actually requires more energy in its production than it provides. The Ohio Corn Growers Association is currently pushing Congress to extend the Ethanol Excise Tax Credit for five more years to stimulate Ohio’s economy with more jobs, while making fuel cheaper for consumers since the tax credit pays gasoline refiners $.45 per gallon to blend ethanol into the gasoline supply.
But it’s time to peel back the husk and look more deeply at the darker, more dangerous side of corn. Corporate greed has attached itself to government subsidies and created a hidden monster for the unaware American consumer.
HFCS … a wolf in sheep’s clothing
The most troubling and controversial derivative of corn by far is HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), unknown until the 1970s. Today, more than 4,000 common grocery store items contain it as a preservative and a sweetener. We see it as delicious and desirable; in truth, it is an addiction – and a poison. By the late 1980s, HFCS took over half of the U.S. sugar market because corn and thus high fructose corn syrup, is much cheaper than cane sugar. It’s a dominant ingredient in soft drinks, frozen dinners, cereals, breads and a host of our favorite everyday household staples. But in our bodies, it interferes with our metabolism and our detoxification processes. Putting profits ahead of ethics, companies poured millions into commercials and colorful packaging to convince Americans to buy these ‘foods’. The consequences are shockingly visible. In just 30 years, while the consumption of this sweetener jumped by 30 percent, the rates of obesity and diabetes exploded. How can this be?
High fructose corn syrup causes inflammation in our bodies, which is associated with the increasing litany of America’s common health complaints: arthritis, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, senility, obesity, depression, fatty liver, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Type II diabetes was formerly found only in adults but now affects our children in epidemic proportions. Adverse metabolic effects are also well documented. Anyone who has ever dieted can attest to the difficulty of losing weight in this age of refined and hidden sugars.
To make HFCS, all nutritional value is stripped from the corn, leaving only a cheap sugar substitute created by soaking corn in sulfuric acid. Yes, sulfuric acid. HFCS puts such a load on the pancreas and liver that they cannot metabolize and eliminate it. Instead, the sugar overload is stored as fat that cannot be lost because the organs that would ordinarily convert the sugar to energy are in crisis mode, leading to the surge in diabetes as the pancreas fails to release enough insulin to neutralize the excess sugars in today’s average diet.
Sadly, our own government is subsidizing this situation based on erroneous policy, leaving Americans battling corn’s dark side on two fronts: HFCS in our food and the GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in our meat. More than 80 percent of corn is now GMO corn, much of it Bt corn, a Monsanto creation that has its own built-in pesticide. Anyone who eats it can become a living pesticide factory since Bt corn contains pesticides in its DNA that can then transfer into human DNA.
GMOs in Corn, messing with our DNA
This GMO corn has not been sufficiently tested, making Americans its unwitting guinea pigs. GM corn is engineered to produce a built-in pesticide called Bt-toxin. Monsanto’s own research found that rodents fed Bt corn had significant immune reactions. Bt corn is implicated in the deaths of cows in Germany and chickens and horses in the Philippines. Cows never eat corn in nature. Most of Europe, by law, requires clear labeling of GM products, but no such protections exist for American consumers since our powerful agribusiness industry has a vested interest in keeping government policy favorable to them while keeping us ignorant. Fortunately, for those curious enough to seek answers, a number of books, documentaries, articles and studies are available on the impact these unnatural ‘foods’ and crop byproducts are having on us and on our children’s health. (See listing at the end of this article.)
The agribusiness marketing campaign has been so effective that the average consumer actually believes that “corn-fed beef” is a positive attribute of meat when the opposite is true.
Factory farming has removed cows from their natural environment, from the grasses that they naturally eat. Cows, by the tens of thousands, are crowded into grassless feedlots where they spend the last months of their lives standing knee-deep in dirt and manure, eating a dried corn diet that sickens them and would kill them within six months if they were not slaughtered first. These sick and mistreated cows become our food, our “corn-fed beef” and nothing about it is healthy.
It is no accident that e-coli and other food-borne illnesses are on the rise across this country. The documentary movie, “Food, Inc.” exposes agribusiness’s harmful effects on animals, on the safety of our food supply and on the rise in e-coli in everything from hamburger to lettuce as a result of toxic factory farm run-off. While there were thousands of slaughterhouses in the 1970s, there are now only 17 in the entire U.S. America has lost 5 million family farms since the rise of factory farms 30 years ago. The result is unnatural, unsafe food. The hamburger we now eat is likely to be made from thousands of animals rather than just one under this perverse system, exponentially raising the risk of mad cow disease, e-coli, salmonella or other illnesses.
According to the New York Times, the “majority of hamburger” now sold in the U.S. contains the fatty slaughterhouse trimmings the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil, including material from the outer surface of the carcass that contains “larger microbiological populations.” This meat filler or “pink slime” as one FDA microbiologist called it, is commonly used in the federal school lunch program, in our favorite fast food restaurant hamburgers and in grocery-store ground beef. This nasty stuff is ineffectively cleaned with ammonia to cut its toxicity. This saves Beef Products, Inc., the industry that produces it, 3 cents a pound in production costs while earning it an additional $440 million a year.
As corporations get richer and we get sicker and fatter, we keep running to doctors and drug stores looking for relief when their income depends on us not finding any. Corporations push the double goal of efficiency and profit at the cost of our very lives. Our only defense is to educate ourselves.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have now infiltrated almost every nook and cranny of the food system, leaving us vulnerable to a host of problems including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging and negative changes in our major organs and gastrointestinal systems. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (ASEM) concluded, “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation … ” Renowned biologist Pushpa Ghargaza believes GMOs are a major contributor to the deteriorating health in America.
Scientists at the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) warned that GM foods might create new allergies, poisons, new diseases and nutritional problems. Ohio allergist Dr. John Boyles says “I used to test for soy allergies all the time, but now that soy is genetically engineered, it is so dangerous that I tell people never to eat it.” With GM foods everywhere now, one way to be pro-active, health-wise, is to opt out of GM foods by printing off the Non-GMO Shopping Guide at www.NonGMOShoppingGuide.com.
The story of corn is long, convoluted and fascinating. With the healthy food movement gaining ground in the United States, more and more people are growing their own organic vegetables and demanding meat that is free of growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and GMO products and that is grass-fed, rather than corn-fed.
Ohio is fortunate to have the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA), a membership-based, grassroots organization founded in 1979 and dedicated to promoting and supporting sustainable, ecological and healthful food systems. It provides a consumer guide for its members of organic and ecological farms and gardens, a membership directory and a newsletter, plus regional and national news of particular interest including farm profiles, practical tips on such things as community gardens and composting, book reviews, resources, events and opportunities.
Renee Hunt, OEFFA program director, said, “Organics have been the one growth area of the food system in the U.S.” This year, for the first time, OEFFA had to close its registration for their annual February conference because demand is so high now for information on sustainability and healthy choices. They can be reached at (614) 421-2022 in Columbus or online at oeffa.org.
Hunt summed it up by saying, “Farmers, backyard gardeners, researchers, students, consumers are all wanting to connect with a healthier food system. There’s a sense that there’s a movement going on.”
It’s about time.