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How often do consumers eat corn? People may think they only eat corn in the form of corn on the cob at picnics, barbecues, summer dinners and Fourth of July parties. However, Americans eat an estimated 700 kg of corn every year. Corn is in many things from a steak at a fancy restaurant to the gas that is used to power cars, and soda. Why do Americans eat so much corn? The answer goes back to the Nixon administration when Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture, revised the farm bill to encourage overproduction of corn and large scale farming, developments which later led to obesity and pollution. The previous bill that it replaced, the farm bill enacted by the Roosevelt administration, had kept the price of corn steady by paying farmers to keep excess grain off the market; farmers of all sizes prospered and no more corn was grown than the market could absorb.
By contrast, Nixon’s farm bill, which is still in force today, supports mainly those farmers who produce large amounts of corn. Farmers are only given more money when they produce more, and only farms with $250,000 or more in annual revenue receive the majority of federal subsidies, leaving an ever decreasing percentage of subsidies each year for the smaller farms. Thus, the bill put many smaller farms out of business that could not produce enough corn to obtain sufficient subsidies, while bigger farms survived because the federal subsidies allowed them to make a profit off of their yearly corn harvest. This process has contributed to the doubling of the average size of farms in the United States because the small farmers have had to sell their land to bigger farmers to repay debts; additionally the production of corn has increased.
The overproduction of corn led to the development of different corn-based substitutes for sugar, including High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which were cheaper to use than the real ingredient. As a result of overproduction, xylose isomerase, the enzyme that creates HFCS became widely used. It is easily obtainable, and some types are sweeter than ordinary sugar. HFCS ends up in almost everything today, even though most people are not aware of it.
The existence of HFCS and other corn-based substitutes led to foods with HFCS which originally didn’t have any sugar added in, leading to obesity. Originally, Nixon’s changes to the bill helped the economy and obesity was not an epidemic; however, over the course of many decades, scientists kept on finding new uses for the corn surplus. As each new use was introduced to the processing industry, the original recipes of popular foods constantly changed, substituting almost every ingredient for different forms of corn. For example, many sodas such as Coke use corn which can be manipulated to look exactly like caramel to color their drinks instead of a more costly real caramel color. According to the Yale Sustainable Food Project, the average American male aged 12-29 drinks about two and a half bottles of soda a day, approximately fifty six ounces, which is about 300 calories that do not make consumers feel less hungry than they originally were. After not feeling full, most consumers will eat more, which can lead to people eating too many calories per day. At the current rate of obesity in America, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that 79.4 million Americans will have a form of diabetes, mainly because of the increased intake of calories from fats, oils, and sugars in the form of HFCS. The percentage of overweight or obese adults has increased 19% in the last few decades; HFCS is produced 3180% more than in 1970; and companies have introduced hundreds of supersized products that are mainly corn.
Furthermore, hidden environmental costs are associated with a high production rate of corn. Corn grown today is fertilized with harsh and dangerous chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides such as atrazine. These chemicals leak from farms all around the nation, polluting water supplies. Atrazine is the most widely used herbicide in American agriculture, even though it is banned in the European Union. Water supplies in the Midwest have been found with 75 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) maximum safe level of atrazine. The chemical is known to cause gender changes in frogs, and causes cardiovascular and reproductive problems when ingested by humans.
Some people say that there is no difference between sugar and HFCS, and groups like the Corn Refiners Association defend the agribusiness of corn. The Corn Refiners Association states that studies show that HFCS, has the same nutritional value as ordinary sugar and honey, which is 4 calories per gram. However, even though there is no health difference, HFCS has become a popular and cheap additive to the point where it now ends up in virtually all processed foods, from tomato sauce to Yoplait yogurt. When HFCS is added to foods that originally never contained added sugar, consumers unknowingly consume more sugar than they realize. Few consumers today realize that sugar was originally never included in the ingredients of the processed foods they are eating, which leads consumers to eat more sugar than they believe. Consumers are unknowingly the victims of the Nixon administration’s revisions to the new farm bill.
In the early 1970s, Nixon’s administration made a mistake by revising the new farm program which started the obesity epidemic in America. This is because overproduction of corn was encouraged, and scientists constantly found more and more ways to substitute and add corn to further lower the cost of processed products while ignoring the environmental costs. One of these substitutes is HFCS which is in virtually every processed food product and linked to the obesity crisis. Clearly, the farm bill should be revised again to attempt to solve the obesity epidemic.
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