From: Grist
Published July 2, 2008 10:08 AM

Amazin' maize: Corn tries to look a little too sweet

by Meredith Niles, Cool Foods Campaign Coordinator, The Center for Food Safety

This week's $4.8 billion merger of Corn Products International and Bunge Ltd. probably didn't catch your eye, but with revenues projected to increase 29 percent this year to $4 billion, you might consider paying attention -- for the sake of your belly and the environment.

Corn syrup manufacturers are going on the offensive -- and that includes a charm offensive. The Corn Refiners Association -- an industry trade group -- launched a new marketing campaign yesterday that coincided with the announcement of the multi-billion dollar merger.

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Corn syrup is trying to clean up its image, but its glossy, interactive website won't work. In an era when two-thirds of Americans are overweight, it's about time we start to re-examine food policy. Surprisingly, (or not, depending on how closely you follow America's convoluted food system) it all comes back to corn. We produce so much corn (heavily subsidized by our tax dollars) that we are feeding it to our cows, turning it into fuel, and developing sweeteners and additives that are pervasive in packaged and processed foods. The average American eats more than 14 tablespoons of sugar a day and an increasing amount of sweeterners is coming from corn syrup. So I am forced to ask: why are we subsidizing the obesity of our own country?

More than 76 million acres of corn are cultivated annually in the United States. Of overall U.S. production, 43 percent will be fed to livestock, more than 20 percent will be turned into ethanol, and most of the remainder will become high fructose corn syrup, corn oil and a host of other corn-based additives and starches destined to end up in foods such as the heavily processed, over-packaged Ring Ding. Yet, the consequences of producing so much corn don't end at our own belt buckles. While the government spends billions to subsidize food that adds weight to our bellies, they simultaneously fund destruction of America's fertile land.

The environmental impact of growing all of this corn is simply astounding. Aside from industrial animal production, there is no food raised that is more destructive than industrial corn. Every year, this corn is sprayed with 162 million pounds of chemical pesticides. The production, packaging, and transport of these pesticides contribute 2.7 billion pounds of greenhouse gases to the environment every year. An estimated 17.8 billion pounds of synthetic fertilizers are used on our corn every year -- more than any other crop -- contributing an additional 35 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. When you add harvesting, processing, and water pollution from agricultural runoff, you've got one big carbon footprint. It derives almost completely from animals, corn syrup and preservatives.

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