Whether you eat corn or not, chances are corn already forms a huge part of your diet. This is due in large part to the Farm Bill, an agricultural and food policy tool passed by the US Congress to reduce hunger and control food prices. While it is primarily used to help US farmers, it has become increasingly less successful at doing so.

Under the Farm Bill, commodity payments (cash payments) are doled out to farmers growing 20 crops, including the 5 main crops of corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybeans. These payments act as a price floor so that US farmers will not be put out of business should the market price of their crops fall below the cost price. However, due to the guaranteed payment for crops, this has led to the overproduction of these crops, especially corn. This has been aggravated by the lowered taxes on ethanol proposed in the 2008 Farm Bill, which encouraged ethanol production and hence corn production since ethanol is a derivative of corn.

The statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency are staggering:

  • The US is the largest producer of corn in the world, producing 10 of the 23 billion bushels in the world in 2000.
  • 80% of these corn is used to feed domestic and overseas livestock, poultry and fish production.
  • 12% of corn crop harvested finds its way into foods that are eaten directly (like corn chips) or indirectly (like high fructose corn syrup).

Every piece of chicken, every serving of tenderloin, every box of fish tenders, and even every can of coke that we consume contains corn or its derivatives. In fact, ABC news reported that a 10,000-pound harvest of corn can yield 57,348 cans of soda, 3,984 corn-fed hamburgers, 2,301 pounds of bacon or 6,727 boxes of frosted corn flakes.

That’s not all. When Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, makers of the documentary “King Corn”, used their hair samples to analyze how much corn exists in their bodies, Cheney found out that he had 58 percent while Ellis had 53 percent.

If anything, corn could be the factor that has been driving up the obesity and malnutrition rates in the States. Since corn is so easily available and convertible to other food items, it has penetrated our meals to an unprecedented extent.

Clearly, there is a need to control corn production. The Congress has to think of ways to reform the Farm Bill so that every American can access healthy and nutritional food.

In the meantime, as we walk down the aisle at the supermarket, maybe we should think twice before we buy goods off the shelf. Better still, maybe we should head out towards the farmers’ market instead, where food items are allegedly fresher and organic.

By Stacy Wong

Picture of corn: http://www.flickr.com/photos/floridapfe/2129995823/