Who knew that what you eat has a huge impact on the lives of others? This topic has numerous issues associated with it, but today I just want to talk about corn.
“The government spent $41.9 billion on corn subsidies from 1995 to 2004” (New York Times). Billions of dollars more are being promised for the next five years (Washington Post). So what does that mean?
Well, it means several things :
1. American corn is unnaturally cheap.
Sounds like a good thing until you realize that this means that we push out other products because of this cheap corn. How could a corn-grower in Mexico compete with corn from America which farmers can afford to set at a low price because they get extra money from the government? This means that the corn-grower in Mexico cannot sell corn in Mexico (because American corn is exported to Mexico) or in America (where American corn abounds). American consumers might think, “This is wonderful that corn is so cheap because I can feed my family with it” but that consumer is really paying for the corn twice: once at the grocery store and again when she pays taxes.
2. Corn is in everything.
“Of 10,000 items in a typical grocery store, at least 2,500 use corn in some form during production or processing.”
“We’re producing way too much corn. So, we make corn sweeteners. High-fructose corn sweeteners are everywhere. They’ve completely replaced sugar in sodas and soft drinks. They make sweet things cheaper. We also give it to animals. Corn explains everything about the cattle industry. It explains why we have to give [cattle] antibiotics, because corn doesn’t agree with their digestive system. It explains why we have this E.coli 0157 problem, because the corn acidifies their digestive system in such a way that these bacteria can survive.” (Matthew MacLean, Christian Science Monitor).
These are only a few of the problems caused when corn products are used in everything. On a personal note, I try to only drink Mexican Coke if I’m having a soda because it is made with real sugar, which is so much better tasting than high fructose corn syrup!
3. Farmers are limited in what they can grow.
This New York Times article put out on Saturday relates the frustrations of one farmer who wanted to grow fruits and vegetables for his consumers at the local farmers market. He rented land from corn farms to grow even more fresh fruits and veggies. But because farm land that has received subsidies for corn must be used to grow corn, these corn farmers may be penalized financially and this vegetable farmer also lost a lot of money.
On a personal note, my hubby told me that there is a shortage of hops (used to make beer) because hops farmers realized they could make more money growing corn with subsidies. My home-brewing husband is saddened by this turn of events.
Diversity and competition have always been hailed as important aspects in our economy, but it seems that their importance is in name only. Go ahead and call me a libertarian, but why can’t the government simply let consumers drive the market?
So what can we do?
Really, I’m not sure. What I do know is that as a Christian, it’s important that every decision I make benefit (or at least, not harm) other people. So farm subsidies are an important issue. They impact the farmers, not only in our country but in much poorer countries who could benefit from selling their products in our country. They impact consumers who pay taxes for these subsidies. They impact our children who eat products loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. So, corn makes a difference. Who knew?