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Sunday, November 19, 2017

King Corn

Jennifer De Jesus is a student in the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter and an avid movie watcher. She is also an employee of the Health Professions Education Center, which has one of the largest collection of health films in the New York City area.

Over the past thirty years the farmers of the Midwest have been growing an industrial product in their fields: corn. In this film, two college graduate students, Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis, travel to Greene, Iowa, to grow an acre of corn to determine where their corn eventually ends up. In this process they examine the effects that the ever-increasing production of corn has had on American society. Surprisingly enough, one single crop, corn, has had such widespread ramifications, closely interconnected with the economy and health of millions of Americans.

Did you know that the corn grown in states, like Iowa, is actually inedible for human consumption? Most of the corn grown is actually turned into animal feed. Convenient for cattle ranchers, corn feed quickly fattens animals, decreasing the amount of time needed for the cows to reach market weight. Yet the high-starch diet significantly harms the animals, resulting in rumen acidosis, forcing the cattle ranchers to apply antibiotics. If what the animals are eating is making them sick, imagine the effects eating such meat can have on consumers!

According to the film, the beginning of this tale dates all the way back to the 1970s, when Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz ended the Acreage Reduction Program—a program in which the government paid farmers to not produce, maintaining high prices for grains. This program was then replaced by a system in which the government paid farmers for the amount produced. Initially, this appears to be a fair system: the government pays per product. However, this system rewards the overproduction of corn, which has led to a multitude of problems: sickly cattle destined for consumption, as well as obesity and all associated diseases.

Shocking, when first exposed, was the fact that after animal feed, most of the corn is turned into high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sweetener used in breads, beverages, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups, condiments—you name it. The reason for the abundance of high fructose corn syrup is strictly financial—it is cheaper and sweeter than natural sugar.

Americans demand readily available and cheap food. This constant desire has such negative impacts not only on food, but on our health. At this point, however, there is no quick fix. To reinstitute the previous law on corn would increase its price adversely affecting the cattle industry, sugar industry, farmers and poorer families, which depend on cheaper food. Yet, to continue down this path would only maintain the escalating trend of health problems. America already has an array of health problems, most of which are linked to our diet and lifestyles. Even though there is no immediate solution that can be applied to this issue, it will not simply disappear if ignored; more attention and exposure should be given to its causes and dire effects. With more awareness and interest in the matter, maybe one day we can solve this predicament. Maybe.

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