Corn vs. Wheat

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Jedi Merkurian, Apr 21, 2010.

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  1. Jedi Merkurian Episode VII Thread-Reaper and Rumor Naysayer

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    So I'm calling upon the esteemed minds of the Senate to help settle a domestic dispute :p

    1) On one side is a desire to boycott foods containing corn, especially high-fructose corn syrup (henceforth referred to as HFCS). The rationale is that corn is bad for you; drive U.S. corn producers out of the food business and fully into the fuel business.

    2) On the other side is a desire to boycott fuels containing ethanol. The rationale is that on a worldwide basis, there is a food shortage; why put in our gas tanks what people can be eating? Not to mention the gov't subsidizing of corn. Drive corn producers out of the fuel business and back fully into the food business.

    3) The counterargument to (2) is that corn is not good food.

    And around we go 8-} So we're both in agreement that HFCS is evil, but not in agreement about whether corn should go into either our bellies or our gas tanks.

    Sooooo...what about wheat?
  2. anakin_girl Jedi Grand Master

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    Oct 8, 2000
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    I've got another idea: end corn subsidies. Corn subsidies were started during the Depression when people were starving. The economy isn't great right now but people aren't starving either. Because of the subsidies, and farmers growing more corn than people can eat, corn refiners started converting corn into HFCS and ethanol. Additionally, growing one or two crops all the time is horrible for the soil. If you went to a farm in Iowa in the 20s, you would find a variety of crops, plus animals. If you go to a farm in Iowa now, you'll find corn and soybeans. Monocropping messes up all foods, not just those that are monocropped.

    I don't think corn is bad for you in moderation. Nothing wrong with a little corn on the cob once in awhile, or creamed corn the way my grandmother made it, with white shoepeg corn. But there is no reason to put HFCS in every food that doesn't run away first. I cut it out of my diet about four years ago and have noticed a huge difference. I have fibromyalgia; cutting out HFCS and other processed foods cut my symptoms back by a factor of 10.

    There is no reason to have corn subsidies anymore, other than it would be political suicide for any Presidential candidate to suggest ending them, given that the Iowa Caucus is the first primary. I don't know that ending them would ever fly through the Senate either; I'm trying to think of how many states have a large population of corn farmers, but I'll bet there are enough senators who would move heaven and earth to keep corn subsidies for their constituents.

    But if we're going to keep corn subsidies, put the corn in our gas tanks instead. It's already being done in some states. Gas here is 10 percent ethanol. One downside to that: I get 10 mpg less in my Prius than my mother-in-law in Massachusetts gets in hers. There is more ethanol in gasoline here.
  3. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    I don't understand the point of the debate, JM. What are the alternatives?

    The U.S. provides 70% of all corn on world export markets, but uses 80% of its corn production domestically. The corn-based ethanol issue is that the U.S. cannot both use corn as a significant alternative fuel source and export significant quantities of corn. Our ethanol needs, if it were tasked with replacing oil imports, would eat up all corn available for export (which is consumed worldwide by humans and livestock).

    The most recent push for corn-based ethanol hit a snag with the global recession and oil price downturn, but it's going to become a hot button issue again within 2-3 years at most.

    If driving up the price of HFCS is a goal, then a strategic commitment to corn-based ethanol will certainly achieve it, but it's a bad idea for so many reasons. One of them is that the science on the energy return for corn-based ethanol is not great. Estimates range from a low positive net energy return to a low net energy loss, meaning it potentially costs more in fossil fuels to produce corn-based ethanol than the energy equivalent we get out of it. Other biofuels are more promising than corn.

    The big American monocrops: corn, wheat and soybeans are hard on the soil, on water consumption and on fossil fuel/pesticide consumption, but we supply a giant chunk of the the world's supply of all three. We're the number one corn producer and exporter, the number one soybean producer and exporter, and the number 3 wheat producer.

    To the extent the rest of the world is dependent on American food exports, biofuels are potentially a huge problem. On the other hand, there's no question, Americans consume too many food calories, including too many empty calories in the form of HFCS, and too many meat calories fed by primary grain production.
  4. Mr44 VIP

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    What about the Uni. of Mass. Study (or maybe it is Cornell) that was financed by the Defense Department- I'd like to say around 2008- that found that the feedstock waste products could also be turned to fuel?

    From what I remember of the program, it focused on getting the most efficient use of existing corn plants, and it also developed more high yield crops that didn't need as much water. The fuel was actually cheaper for the military and the University was touting it as a "greener" alternative to fossil fuels. I remember the figures being thrown around were about a savings of about $30 per equivalent "barrel" of grassoline vs crude oil.

    I also remember talk about the military developing "strategic" fields of high yield corn that would be turned into JP-8 fighter fuel. I'm not sure of the environmental impact, but I would hope that Amherst or Cornell wouldn't be so short sighted as to develop an alternative that damages the environment.

    Really though Jabba, this is more your field of knowledge. (yes, pun intended) Do you see any merit in high yield/low water use corn?
  5. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    Every European I know is deathly afraid of genetically modified grain, but I'm all for any and all research that leads to higher yields and less water or lower petrochemical use in growing the grain.

    As a peak oil doomer, I'd support bio jet fuels even at a serious net energy loss if that's what it took to keep our air force aloft.
  6. Ghost Chosen One

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    Oct 13, 2003
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    I don't trust biofuels, which pollute just as bad or worse than fossil fuels while also driving up the price of food.

    And I also like corn. :p Why is it bad?


    Generally related to this topic, so this post is worth a little more:

    Aren't Agribusiness corporations generally THE most powerful special interest group, even bigger than Big Banks, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Insurance corporations? Almost tied with Defense/Intelligence? That they always get their way with subsidies, tax breaks, exemptions, loopholes, deregulation, etc.? It seems like Agribusiness reform should be a priority on the agenda as well.




    EDIT:


    To reply to Lowbacca below, I've heard the same thing. Brazil's sugarcane is much more efficient as a biofuel, the country is entirely energy-independent.
  7. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

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    Jun 28, 2006
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    As a fuel, I've read several things over the years saying that the claimed benefits for corn are just not there. Different crops may be worth talking about, but it seems to me that using corn for fuel is just begging for inefficiency, and is more about people feeling like they're improving the situation than actually improving it.
  8. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    True, among people who are alternative energy enthusiasts, corn-based ethanol seems to be the most widely despised, and relating to what Darth-Ghost wrote, there's no way it would have made it as far as it has without that massive agri-lobby. The question is how much money will be wasted subsidizing and investing in it before everyone really understands how inefficient it is.
  9. Mr44 VIP

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    I don't trust biofuels, which pollute just as bad or worse than fossil fuels while also driving up the price of food.

    I think the point of the study was to increase the effectiveness in comparison to how the crop is used now. Otherwise, it didn't make sense. If you increase yield by 40% per acre, and then end up using 99.9% of the product itself, the benefits might materialize. The military study focused a large part on using parts of the corn plant that were discarded and/or underused. It was different than just diverting traditional ethanol or food production.

    I don't know the specific answer, but how has petroleum production squeezed every bit out of a drum of oil? During the industrial revolution, a barrel of oil was probably broken down into tar/asphalt, heavy fuel, and light fuel. Now, we have probably a dozen or more "separations" from the same barrel of crude, including synthetic fabrics.
  10. shanerjedi Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 17, 2010
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    I'm with anakin girl: end the corn subsidy. In fact, end all argi-business(don't kid yourself. These are not small quaint farms. These are large corporate ops)subsidies over a multi-year period.
  11. VoijaRisa Force Ghost

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    Oct 12, 2002
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    If we end corn subsidies, what happens to the price? It goes up.

    So either we pay through it as subsidies, or we pay for it at the register. The only advantage I see is that we don't pay for it if we don't want it.

    But that brings up another problem: We tend to want things that aren't good for us OR are cheaper. The first case is the reason another gigantic portion of the food market that gets subsidies is the meat market. I seem to remember that it's nearly as large as the corn subsidies, yet it's supposed to be one of the smallest parts of the food pyramid? Seems a little backwards.

    Regarding the second case, I think that if we ended corn subsidies, Americans would just shift a larger part of their diet to whatever food became the cheapest, which again, would likely again, not be nutritionally sound.

    I'd like to see subsidies more accurately reflect good nutritional research. Sadly, I don't see this happening.

    So in conclusion, I really don't care about corn food vs fuel. They're both pretty marginal from what I've learned.
  12. anakin_girl Jedi Grand Master

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    Yeah, if we're going to have subsidies, let's subsidize all fruits and vegetables or subsidize local farmers' markets.
  13. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

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    I really don't think the answer to "Why are we subsidizing this" should be "yeah, we should subsidize this instead"
  14. anakin_girl Jedi Grand Master

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    I'm not really a fan of subsidies, but someone brought up making nutritious food cheaper, hence my last post. I'm also not sure that any politician has the stomach to advocate against subsidies.
  15. VoijaRisa Force Ghost

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    I don't know that it's an answer, but I think it's a fair question.
  16. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

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    Oh, I will say I'm all for tossing the subsidies out. When its part of a business model, I've got a problem with it.
  17. Jedi Merkurian Episode VII Thread-Reaper and Rumor Naysayer

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    What indeed? In the food industry, corn producers make HFCS, which is bad. In the fuel industry, corn producers make ethanol, which is bad. If "Big Corn" is driven out of the food industry and into the fuel business, then that contributes to worldwide food problems.

    An alternative I was considering is the idea of shifting corn producers over into greater production of wheat or other grains. However, I'm not aware of cost & energy of production and distribution, nutritional value of wheat compared to corn, factors like that.
  18. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

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    We need to remember that there is a difference between Big Corn for purposes other than human consumption. I've made this argument before, but then realized that only a fraction of the farm land in the US is suitable for crops to feed humans. The majority of the land is just making use of otherwise-terrible farmland.

    I have to say that growing corn is an inefficient use of that land, considering that there are so many other crops which are more sustainable and are better suited for ethanol. Wheat isn't nearly as bad as corn, but it is still fertilizer-intensive and an unsustainable farm practice in the long run.
  19. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    I don't like the subsidy system either. People talk about taxing junk food or junk food peddlers as a tool for combating obesity. When you have subsidies on the production end and extra taxes on the consumption end, this is where government policy becomes a parody of itself.

    But we're at a point where small changes in the economic incentive structure could have far reaching global effects. I'm not sure people understand the extent to which food exports prop up the world's population. Fundamental changes in America's agribusiness policies need to be approached carefully.

    This is my problem with government, and the point at which I most sympathize with movements like the Tea Party. I'm not shocked at the federal government's size or what it spends, I'm shocked at the extent to which government policies are fueled entirely by lobbying efforts without broad efforts at national strategic planning.

    The military, as far as I can tell, is the only branch of government that really engages in long range strategic planning.

    The U.S. needs national 5,10, 15, 20 year strategic plans for energy, food, water resource management, immigration and population issues.

    The Chinese do it. There's a terrific account in the Atlantic about how the Chinese are essentially recolonizing Africa. They're slowly and strategically reengineering that entire continent to supply the Chinese with commodity resources: food, minerals, energy. Buying up land to create vast agribusiness enterprises, building roads to access Chinese owned mines, securing oil deals
  20. Jedi Merkurian Episode VII Thread-Reaper and Rumor Naysayer

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    I'm not shocked at the federal government's size or what it spends, I'm shocked at the extent to which government policies are fueled entirely by lobbying efforts without broad efforts at national strategic planning.

    This. This right here. If ever there was a weakness to U.S.-style capitalism, it's the focus on "me first" and/or short-term gain, without looking at the bigger, long-term picture.
  21. farraday Jedi Grand Master

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    Ending corn subsidies would also increase the cost of meat, which is not wholly a bad thing.

    Corn bio diesel is, however, completely worthless and while bio diesel is a good alternative there are far better ones out there we should be developing. I believe algae is one of the most attractive prospects from an energy standpoint.
  22. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

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    High meat prices = more food for human consumption.

    It's remarkable how much corn and soy that we feed to cattle that it's just ridiculous to think that there won't be enough for us, humans. If anyone's complaining that people are starving, then why not just consider switching 10% of our corn crops for something that we can eat directly. That would virtually double the nutritional value we are currently getting for only a tenth of our beef and pork production.

    I would advocate for wheat we can eat directly... skip the 1/10 sacrifice for an equivalent sum of pork.
  23. shanerjedi Jedi Master

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    Mar 17, 2010
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    So?

    That price would more accurately reflect the social costs of bringing that product to market. Why should I subsidize their negative external costs?

    Ending the agricultural subsidies would have a large healthy impact on our environment, our health, and the availability of food.

    We subsidize farmers to not grow food on their land. We subsidize them to destroy surplus crops. We subsidize farmers to grow certain types of food on their land.

    We subsidize Florida sugarcane, which pollutes the Everglades with pesticide and chemically-laced irrigation water.

    We subsidize ranchers with grazing permits purchased well below market value so livestock can graze the heck out of land and cowpie watersheds.

    Barney Frank is right and has been right about agri-business subsidies for a long time. They are a form of corporate welfare that distorts markets.
  24. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    It's interesting isn't it? You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone, anyone at all, who disagrees with this statement. The book The Informant discusses the huge political influence of companies like ADM. It helps them greatly that they have few direct consumer contact points and so the general public is mostly ignorant of their existence. They're free to spend heavily in Washington to keep that corn syrup flowing.
  25. shanerjedi Jedi Master

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    I'll have to take a look at that book Jabba.

    I'm also interested in the large decline in nutrients in our food grown today as opposed to a few generations ago. Supposedly there's been a huge drop how much nutrients are in today's fruits and vegetables.

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