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Posts Tagged ‘ethanol’

I happened to see this article today. Just to warn you, it’s pretty fucking scary and depressing. However, it’s not surprising. We already know that the government makes decisions on a purely financial basis, without regard for long-term consequences. And this just proves it.

I wrote about this three years ago. Did I not say that finding another reason to harvest more corn would cause problems? Now this: “Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.”

Our landscape is being destroyed for the sake of commerce and capitalism. And the government knew this would be a problem:

“As a way to reduce global warming, [the EPA] knew corn ethanol was a dubious proposition. Corn demands fertilizer, which is made using natural gas. What’s worse, ethanol factories typically burn coal or gas, both of which release carbon dioxide.” 

I’ll admit that given where we are with discovering and harnessing alternative fuels, ethanol is probably a better solution than something like fracking. However, it’s likely that any environmental benefits to be had from adding ethanol to gasoline are canceled out by the agricultural process itself. Good in theory, perhaps, but not in practice.

This is not only hurting our environment, but it’s hurting farmers for whom keeping their grasslands in tact (and actually having self-sufficient farms) once made financial sense. As with industrial farming in general, the government (USDA) has ensured that there’s a greater financial benefit to farmers if they just bite the bullet and convert all of their crops and fields to corn and/or soy.

Oh, and by the way, they should probably use GMO corn and soy so that the crops are pest-resistant and yield more per dollar! Guess who benefits from that? You got it: companies like Monsanto and DuPont.

And this is somewhat alarming:

“Historically, the overwhelmingly majority of corn in the United States has been turned into livestock feed. But in 2010, for the first time, fuel was the No. 1 use for corn in America. That was true in 2011 and 2012. Newly released Department of Agriculture data show that, this year, 43 percent of corn went to fuel and 45 percent went to livestock feed.” 

I don’t condone industrial agriculture for feedlots. But if more and more of the corn is being used to create ethanol for gasoline, what becomes of the corn used for feedlot farms? Where will they get the extra food? Chances are we’ll need to replace even more of our sacred land with fields and fields of corn.

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I hadn’t planned on writing about this, but the more I think about it, the more aggravated I become. While Jay and I were attempting to enjoy our 2-year anniversary in New Hampshire last month, I came across an article in USA Today discussing how the EPA is allowing the amount of ethanol used in gasoline to go from 10% to 15%. Not sure if you read my blog post about corn, but I mentioned the fact that part of the industrially-farmed corn is used to make ethanol.

On the surface, this may seem like a good thing: less dependence on foreign oil and lower gas prices. But really, it’s costing us a lot more. Not only is it bad for the environment, but we will end up spending more in the long run. Less oil in your gasoline means fewer miles to the gallon. So you’ll be making more frequent trips to the gas station. Oh joy!

On top of that, it supports the concept of industrial agriculture. The last thing we need is another reason to produce even more corn or take away some corn that would otherwise be used for feedlot animals and processed foods (not that I support that at all, but this would mean the prices for these items would go up).

Finally, this makes a huge statement about how America deals with the environment. Instead of supporting the research and development of alternative fuels/energy, the government finds ways to spend less money on gas at the expense of the taxpayers and planet. Does there need to be some sort of global disaster for them to wake up and finally explore other options? How long do they think we can get away with pillaging our planet?

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That’s just one of the great lines featured in the documentary King Corn. Yes, I have a one-track mind. And it’s set on learning as much as I can about our food system, and what’s wrong with it, so I can influence people to smarten up and think before they eat. Not only for the planet and the animals that inhabit it, but for their own health as well!

The documentary was created by two local guys (inspired by Michael Pollan’s work) who decided to go out to Iowa and grow an acre of corn. During this process, they learned about how farming in the Midwest has drastically changed in the past generation and where the corn grown out there ends up.

Here’s the super-abbreviated answer: a small part of the corn becomes ethanol. A large part is used to quickly make feedlot cows fat. More on that in a second. A larger part is processed into high fructose corn syrup, which can be found in almost every processed food we eat, especially soda. In a nutshell (or should I say corn cob?), corn is America’s crop, and it has taken over. It’s all about the bottom line instead of our health and well being.

Back to the cows. You’re probably wondering, why do I care what cows eat? Cows are made to eat grasses, which is why they have a rumen (specifically there to digest plants, such as grass). Grain isn’t part of their diet. Feedlot cows are fed a diet that’s primarily corn. Because corn is high in starch, is causes their stomachs to become more acidic, which causes health problems for the cattle. To paraphrase someone from the film, feedlot farmers are killing the cows by feeding them so much corn, so it’s a good thing they get slaughtered young since they’d die anyway. How does that affect us? First, corn-fed beef is much higher in saturated fat than grass-fed beef. This is due to the food they eat and the limited space the cows have to move. Meaning they don’t get exercise, while at the same time stuffing their faces with starch. Second, these feedlot cows are given antibiotics to help them fight the stomach disease–acidosis–caused by the corn diet. This is one reason that disease has become so prolific – due to all these antibiotics we unknowingly ingest, the viruses become resistant to antibiotics. Third, feedlots create TONS of pollution that threatens public health.

So why so much corn? (And yes, I’ve blogged about this before.) The government makes it so that growing many acres of corn is more profitable for farmers than growing any other crop. That’s why the “family farms” of yesteryear have become fields of corn as far as the eye can see. It’s also why high fructose corn syrup has become the number one sweetener. For more on this and how the corn subsidy came about, click here. I highly recommend you read this article.

You should watch King Corn, if not to learn a little more about what you’re actually eating, then at least to see a couple of Bostonians “grow” corn, eat it, and “sell” it. (And find out why I put grow and sell in quotes.)

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