The Children of the Corn Subsidies

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[Booked for Wednesday, May 10]

In our recent immigration show, our guests noted that thousands of illegal Mexican immigrants are crossing into the U.S. because following the NAFTA agreement cheap — read subsidized — American corn has flooded the Mexican market. These one-time farmers just can’t compete against U.S. corn on their soil, so they often end up picking fruit on ours.

It’s one of many unintended consequences that follow from cheap corn, and it got us talking that night in the control room. We realized that corn (or corn subsidies) is one of those topics that often comes up in odd contexts. When you think you’re talking about illegal immigration, or diabetes, or energy policy, or environmental degradation, or presidential politics, it turns out that you’re also, and often inevitably, talking about corn.

So we’d like to try the reverse: start with corn itself and see where it leads us.

Michael Pollan

Author, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Botany of Desire, among others

Professor, UC Berkeley School of Journalism

George Naylor

Corn farmer

President, National Family Farm Coalition

Member, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement

Bruce Babcock

Professor of Economics, Iowa State University

Director, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University

Robert Bryce

Managing Editor, Energy Tribune

Author, Cronies and Pipe Dreams, among others

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  • nother

    It leads me first to think about picking up some fresh stocks from that farm in Berlin MA. Sinking my teeth into a hot buttered lightly salted crisp cob fresh from the farm, might just be what keeps me from despair! 🙂

    I’m sure you caught Fresh Air the other day where almost the whole conversation boiled down to “corn.”

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5336252

    Oh ya, and that movie “Children of the Corn” scared the bejesus out of me as a kid.

  • avecfrites

    Of course, we call it Maize.

  • h wally

    One night on the radio I heard a story about a place, I think it was in Colorado, where the government kept seeds collected from all over the world. Part of the purpose of this place was to have non-hybredized seeds that were resistant to various blights and diseases. That way if some area had a disease that wiped out certain crops they could introduce another strain and keep the flow of food going. I was really liking the story until they got to the part about it being underfunded. On night a new janitor came in and cleaned up. It seems that part of their underfunding led to sacks of certain grains being stored in the hallways and other such places. In all around 2500 varieties of corn were turned into popcorn in the incinerator. What a loss. I’m glad we have private seed programs in this country and many others that collect and distribute non-hybredizes seeds. That’s my corn story.

  • yes, nother, I heard some of that piece. And it reminded me of the BT corn that one of the agribusinesses sent to Inda. Corn had not been a crop over there. The BT in the corn killed an indigenous herb that was full of micronutrients and the farmers went broke. The corporations still try to declare this a success because they got cheap corn out of the deal to support our corn syrup habit here in the US.

    This topic infuriates me. I don’t know if I can have a civilized conversation about it. While corn on the cob is a lovely thing, we have managed to turn corn into a destroyer of the planet and people It is now a blight. And other than a short burst of energy around protesting the WTO, we don’t do a thing about the way Cargill, Monsanto and others are destroying bio-diversity and staking patent claims on life forms at the expense of millions of people. And corn is one of the biggest crops they encourage.

    And again, it all comes down to wanting more for less. If we would stop demanding that we pay the least possible price for things – at the expense of anyone but ouselves – situations like this would not get so out of hand. Corn, because of corn syrup, could be the logo of our addictive culture and the greed and avarice with which we pursue our addictions.

  • Nikos

    Re; Immigration

    This ATC story from yesterday contains voices just as deserving to be heard as those of the immigrants: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5341040

    It’s only a few brief minutes. Don’t be an ostrich. Listen to it.

  • nother

    Wow, Allison I had no idea about any of this. Until last week I only thought about corn when I wanted to switch up the canned vegetable I have with my cheeseburger. Or, in the fall when I hit the farm stands.

    Do you have hope that we can use this crop monster for good? Willie Nelson’s on the road again with bio diesel (made from corn) filling his tank. http://www.wnbiodiesel.com/

    What are your thoughts on Ethanol and corn shell burning stoves?

    http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/200101/31_galballye_cornstove-m/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel

  • voices

    Please, please, please look at the facts regarding this issue. There is so much disinformation on this that it makes my head spin:

    1. The Mexican government decided to phase in Nafta’s 15-year plan to reduce corn subsidies in 18 months, mostly to keep down inflation

    2. Much of the corn that Mexico and the U.S. trade are of different types and therefore don’t compete- the U.S. yellow corn is for cattle and is going to feed the appetite for beef, while the Mexican is mostly white corn for direct consumption

    3. By definition subsistence farmers are unaffected by corn prices and the effects of NAFTA becuase they don’t trade or sell their corn!!!! This is often overlooked.

    4. The massive poverty amongst Mexico’s rural population is due to many factors, not the least of which is a corrupt and regressive government, the collapse of the peso, the government shifting subsidies to rich large land-owners, etc.

    5. Mexican corn production has actually INCREASED since NAFTA went into effect.

    In summary, please do this topic some justice and educate people- don’t fall into the cliches about how free trade is bad and hurts the poor etc. etc., which is 99% wrong and based on bad scholarship, bad reasoning, and leads to bad discussion.

    Here are some sources to check out:

    http://www.cbo.gov/showdoc.cfm?index=4247&sequence=0

    http://www.ciaonet.org/wps/scj05/

    http://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/11289.html

    Thanks,

    Jason Scorse, PhD

    http://voicesofreason.info

  • voices

    Mistake- I meant phase out corn tariffs, not subsidies, in point 1 above.

    J.S.

  • diemos3211

    I don’t like the whole fuel-from-corn thing. First off it’s not the greatest feed stock for making fuels, secondly do we really want to set up a situation where we get to choose between a staple grain or making our cars go?

    I think that biodiesel has a future if we can figure out how to produce it from algae (which is doable) and ethanol might even have a future if we can produce it from something other than high sugar food crops.

    Or we could pump funding into fusion research and pray that it’s possible:)

  • Voices, to be fair and reasonable, could you provide links to materials and organizations that one need not subscibe to and that are from independent sources?

  • voices

    Sure

    1. The CBO report is indepedent and accessible fopr free on the link above

    2. Here’s a free link to the My Policy or Yours, which is by academics at Berkley and others

    http://www.nber.org/books/glob-pov/mcmillan-et-al10-19-05.pdf

    3. I can send anyone the IIE paper who wants it (email: voices@voicesofreason.info) since it seems no longer to be free (The IIE is also an independent and non-partisan organization and this paper has the most details on Mexican corn).

    4. Here’s another paper as well from an independent source:

    http://www.agecon.ucdavis.edu/uploads/update_articles/v9n2_1.pdf

    5. And one more on wages in Mexico more generally

    http://www.nber.org/books/glob-pov/hanson8-1-05.pdf

    J.S.

    http://voicesofreason.info

  • We don’t meet regularly anymore but my Goddess circle used to celebrate Lughnasad every August by killing the Korn King. It is one ceremony we still sometimes get together for. We took turns acting as High Priestess and over the years presiding over the killing of the Korn King became my special task. This marks the beginning of harvest when Lugh the Celtic Sun God is dying and the days begin to get shorter. What we would do is bake up a Kornbread man and decorate him with flowers and fruits of the harvest. Then we circle up at the beach around a campfire and start chanting all the things we want to rid the world, or our personal world, of. This could be everything from cellulite to nukes. We build the chant up to a crescendo until we are shouting “THE KORN KING MUST DIE!!â€? and at the high point cast the King King into the fire. Then after dancing around the fire we start chanting what we do want to bring into our lives and the world and eat star shaped cookies. I think this was VERY loosely based on something we read in Starhawk’s Spiral Dance.

  • ops King King should read Korn King.

  • Come to think of it, the killing of the Korn King all sounds a little like the task of Judas if I may converge threads here for a moment. Christianity is an agrarian religion. Jesus is born in a barn surrounded by farm animals. He is the fruit and the vine. The vine must be cut down so the seeds of new life can roll away the stones and bloom into an eternal life cycle.

    Are, as Allison points out, “Cargill, Monsanto and others [who] are destroying bio-diversity and staking patent claims on life forms at the expense of millions of people� the Korn Kings whose crucifixion would benefit the eternal life cycle?

    Here I am mixing politics with religion, a tradition older than Christianity as the very first temples of the early city states were granaries. So, isn’t it about time we threw the moneychangers out of the temple?

  • This tpoic is near and dear to me, having grown up on a farm.

    A few things worth addressing:

    High-Fructose Corn Syrup — this nearly unavoidable corn-derived sweetener is bad in as many ways as it is sweet. The GMO corn used is often processed with GMO bacteria. Those aside, there are a whole host of health issues that make this another awful turn in the American economy and diet. Studies have yet to be conducted, but speculation points to coincidence between HFCS and the recent rise in obesity. Read about how the average American consumes over 60 pounds of it annually and the attendant health risks here:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A8003-2003Mar10?language=printer

    Intellectual property rights and GMO corn — If it is not frightening enough that the Monsantos and Cargills of the world are crossing different plant and animal genetic strains, might I suggest you research the world of rights as they pertain to the actual kernals of corn the farmers are harvesting. When a farmer goes to buy seed corn to plant in the spring, he is required to sign legally-binding documents that details the fair use of it. This is limited to planting and harvesting the crop only. Many moons ago, farmers would save back some of the autumn harvest’s seed for planting in the spring. Doing so now with these Frankenstien GMOs constitutes a punishable offense. Who knew that Joe Farmer was that close to intellectual property theft?

  • rustyrocket

    You should have Micheal Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” on the show. His book centers around corn, which is in just about everything in American food, as well as quite a few non-food items, according to his very revealing, educational book. He might be able to highlight for listeners how and why the American economy is so dependent upon the corn growing industry.

  • Micheal Pollan also wrote “The Bottany of Desire”. A look at how human desire has impacted the perpetuation of some plant species at the expense of others. rustyrocket’s suggestion is a good one. This a topic that Pollan could address quite handily.

  • Rustyrocket: Michael Pollan is a favorite of ours, and we’ve been already been talking to his publicity people. We’ll keep you posted.

  • Another interesting person to listen to on the topic of American crop exports and sustainable farming is an Indian woman named Vandana Shiva

    http://www.vshiva.net/

    And if you want to hear from a group that supports the corn industry from an interesting angle, there is the Institute for Local Self Reliance

    http://www.carbohydrateeconomy.org/

    I’ve known of them for at least a decade. I’ve been surprised that they’ve embraced modern corn production, but you can see why on their web site.

  • BB

    One important point to make about the current ethanol market: ethanol can be made from many organic materials, but the current market is from virgin corn, so to speak. In other words, it’s not a by-product of anything, but a subsidized crop that will be used for only one purpose. It has a huge environmental footprint if you take into consideration all the water and petroleum used for farm and fertilize the fields. So while it’s cleaner in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s still not very good, either economically or environmentally. What would be better is to use the byproducts of various crops that are produced for food or other purposes — all that leftover stuff can be turned into different biofuels.

    On another note, I think the corn conversation could be a couple of different shows — say, one focused on diet (the glut of subsidized corn syrup) and the diabetes epidemic; and one on the environmental impacts. There’s lots to talk about, that’s for sure …

  • serious lee

    Great to hear from all you corn activists.

  • nother

    Just to add a little levity to this subject, I wanted to point out that for bourbon to be bourbon, it must be at least 51% corn and it must be made in Kentucky.

    And bourbon is tasty!

    An act of the U.S. Congress in 1964 declared bourbon to be “America’s Native Spirit” and its official distilled spirit.

    Personally, I recommend “Woodford Reserve.”

  • serious lee

    I swear to God if they had a thread about dog crap you idiots would respond. What’s wrong wit you people? I can’t believe there are actually people out there who are so intensely concerned about frigging corn. Get a job. Go volunter at the mission. Turn off your computers and try to make something out of your meaningless lives. I pity you idiots. Go get a mirror and look at the pittiful reflections that greet you. Get a life. I’m serious you idiots, it may not be to late but time is short. You seem to have a limited amount of brain cells left. Hurry before you run out and start drooling all over yourselves. If not, don’t worry, next weeks show is about removing those pesky stains from your undies.

  • nother

    Speaking of removing one of those pesky stains, I thought you said you were leaving three threads ago.

  • Potter

    I heard Michael Pollan today on the radio. It’s amazing how much of our food supply involves corn. I have been especially conscious of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in our diet and have been avoiding products that contain it for awhile now.

    We have been supporting the Center for Science in the Public Interest for years, receiving their monthly newsletter. Recently on their web site there was a report about a study done regarding HFCS that contradicts two previous studies. The recent one, industry funded, done by James Rippe of Tufts claims ( of course) that HFCS is no different than table sugar.

    Since HFCS is such a big part of the American diet ( look at your jar of jelly for instance, or a can of fruit–look at all your food labels actually), I’d like for the discussion to at least touch this, if not focus on it.

    The other two studies were done by Harvard School of Public Health and University of Cinncinati, both suggesting a connection to greater fat storage and type 2 Diabetes.

    http://www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/integsci_4.7.pdf

    Why are we subsidizing this?

  • Micheal Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire has a new book out, The Omnivore’s Delemma.

    Here is an excerpt from the booksellers blurb….

    “Pollan’s narrative strategy is simple: he traces four meals back to their ur-species. He starts with a McDonald’s lunch, which he and his family gobble up in their car. Surprise: the origin of this meal is a cornfield in Iowa. Corn feeds the steer that turns into the burgers, becomes the oil that cooks the fries and the syrup that sweetens the shakes and the sodas, and makes up 13 of the 38 ingredients (yikes) in the Chicken McNuggets.

    Indeed, one of the many eye-openers in the book is the prevalence of corn in the American diet; of the 45,000 items in a supermarket, more than a quarter contain corn. Pollan meditates on the freakishly protean nature of the corn plant and looks at how the food industry has exploited it, to the detriment of everyone from farmers to fat-and-getting-fatter Americans. Besides Stephen King, few other writers have made a corn field seem so sinister. “

  • It’s not directly about corn, but this is about farmers’ rights, GMO, Monsanto and how David now must go against Goliath with nothing but stones, since someone else ones the patent for the sling.

    If you want to hear a talk given by Percy Schmeiser in Maine in January, follow the links at this site. There are some other great speakers here.

    http://canadianvoices.org/index.php

    In March 2001, Percy Schmeiser was found guilty of having plants of Monsanto-patented, Genetically Engineered (GE), Roundup Ready canola on his land. He was found not guilty of obtaining the seed fraudulently, and insists that he never purchased seed from Monsanto or used Roundup herbicide on his crops. The judge specified that whether Monsanto’s proprietary genetics came in via wind, water, birds, or fell off farmers’ trucks did not matter: Schmeiser infringed on Monsanto’s patent. The judge also ruled that when any fields are contaminated with GE seed, the crop would become the property of the patent owner — in this case Monsanto. Rather than being compensated for the loss of his special variety of canola, Schmeiser’s crop was confiscated.

    In May of 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Schmeiser’s appeal case that although Monsanto’s patent is valid, Schmeiser would not be forced to pay Monsanto’s fines or legal fees, since he did not profit from the contamination. Nevertheless, the impact of the Canadian Court decision, and current rules governing the intellectual property rights related to GE seed, place all farmers at risk. Around the world, farmers are being visited by Monsanto’s private investigators. They come to the door, advise the farmers that they’re suspected of illegally planting its GE seeds, and offer a letter stipulating what the farmers must pay to avoid being formally prosecuted and potentially losing thier entire farm. If the farmers choose to pay the fee, they are also obliged to sign a letter saying that they will remain silent about the incident or face further prosecution.

    Schmeiser was one of the few farmers with the ability to fight this attempt at extortion, even if the fight had the potential to cost him everything.

  • diemos3211

    The GM patent issues are more part of the larger issues about IP and insane copyright/patent laws than about corn I would think. To be sure the issues overlap, but I think that the patent stuff needs several shows worth of examination.

    That being said, the issues with farmers in general vs. GM patent holders is especially heinous because a farmer can literally have his fields accidentally infected by “owned” types of plants.

  • diemos3211

    Actually, thinking about it a little more, that would be an incredible underhanded way for a biotech company to rack up spurious fines. Just go fling some of your seeds into a field and voila! You get to try and dun the farmer for some cash in hand.

  • nother

    Bill Gates hs invested $84m in Pacific Ethanol Inc, a producer of corn-based fuel.

    Pacific Ethanol has announced plans to build five ethanol plants in the Western United States with an expected combined installed annual ethanol capacity of at least 200 million gallons.

    Yee ha! Not just the talk of “tree huggers” anymore -now the money is talking!

  • my right leaning, dear brother’s (heavy right leaning) reply to me in debating

    my left leaning arguement on big oil, Ironingly started by me quoting to him

    Bill O’Reilly’s comments on Big Oil causing the steep energy prices:

    “I think its good for him to get people taking about it, he (Bill O’Reilly) might also mention the 500 years worth of oil we have in our bourders, (under Nebraska

    alone) that we cannot get to because of the regulations that the treehugger

    dems have put in place. But once it starts getting to the pocket books of

    the voters I think that will change.

    He fails to mention also that most of our stuff at the pump is avialable in

    a E10 or 10% blend, and that we spent around 12% of our corn crop last year

    on ethonol. The E85 FFV cars may be coming out more in 06, but at what cost?

    Iam for going back to the bike. But I’am sure like anything else once we

    start using sugar or corn up for gas they’ll whinning that we aren’t doing

    enough to feed the world’s hungry handout crowd.”

  • diemos3211

    We should be devloping methods to extract biodiesel feed stock from algae and pushing forward on getting ethanol from cellulose thusly dodging the use of food crops for fuel. Then we could also reserve our oil reserves for other uses that cannot be so easily substituted, like fertilizer, plastic, synthetic fibers, chemicals in general, jet fuel, etc.

    But again, that’s a different show.

  • diemos3211

    Also,

    wkylem:

    Did your brother happen to direct you to any sources for his contention that there is enough oil for 500 years under Nebraska? We go through around 20 million barrels a day, so assuming that our usage stays static we would be looking at 3,560,000,000,000 barrels under Nebraska. While I realize that proven reserve listings are not neccesarily indicative of how much oil is actually in a region, I think that 3.56 billion barrels is a bit unlikely.

  • diemos3211: I like the idea of developing biodiesel from cellulose (read more sustainable) sources. But I’m kind of laughing at the thought of reserving oil for fertilizer, since using petrochemicals in our agriculture and more importantly in our home gardens/landscapes is a huge environmental and human health problem.We don’t need these products to grow food and plants.

    We need to stop using oil in every arena. The products we make with it don’t biodegrade. They off-gas and cause other health problems. So, while we’re trying to be smart about fuel, let’s also be wise about the rest of our consumption. We need a shift in our culture about our consumption of non-renewable, non-biodegradable resources.

  • diemos3211

    Agreed, but lets be realistic about the pace of change. Fuel/energy and the byproducts thereof are the pressing problem right now. This is not to say that the other petroleum products are not presenting important problems at the moment, but they pale in comparison to the fuel/energy issue in terms of needing to be solved quickly. I think that it’s an achievable goal to shift away from fossil fuels, but to also ask everyone to give up plastic and cheap food at the same time seems to put the whole proposal into danger.

    And, to bring it all back to the corn-focused topic, I think that using corn for fuel is not a very good idea.

  • webgremlin

    As a kid I worked at a corn stand in Connecticut. I called myself the corn doctor even though I didn’t really have a PhD in cornology. This was some of the best corn I’ve ever had.

    The point is that we need to continue to support the small farmers we still have. It’s safer, more economical, and most importantly tastier.

  • diemos3211: I hear you.

  • junec

    My Favorite Vegan Cornbread

    1 cup corn meal

    1 cup soy flour

    2 teasp baking powder

    1 teasp salt

    1/4 cup maple syrup

    1/4 cup seseme oil

    1 cup soy milk

    add water as needed

    Preheat oven to 350F. Mix dry ingredients together. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients. Pour batter into well oiled pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

    I just checked my Bob’s Red Mill Cornmeal package. I wondered if “organic” ment it was not genetically engineered. Here is an excerpt from the Bob’s Red Mill websight.

    “What does ‘organic’ mean anyway?

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.”

    http://www.bobsredmill.com/

  • junec

    oh duh… I ment website not websight

  • Brent Taylor

    if you guys are serious about the topic for a show, and you want true agricultural dissent, could you investigate getting Wendell Berry on?

    I’d love to hear what he says about this.

  • junec

    Brent, You are so right. That would be an interesting show! Unless I’m mistaken I think Wendell Berry remains an anti-computers Luddite. That would make his take on ROS, not to mention corn, especially interseting. Yes, I’d love to hear a conversation between Christopher Lydon & Wendell Berry!

  • jazzman

    Junec: I’m a huge fan of Bob’s Red Mill Products and start every day with his Scottish Oatmeal. Fortunately I’m able to buy it locally (Market Basket for those in Massachusetts) as the cost of shipping from Bob is more than the product. I’m also a huge fan of Leave It To Beaver (although IMO the Cleaver’s parenting was more successful on Wally than The Beaver – witness Beaver’s behavior on the last season. Wally was never that irresponsible.) Back to Corn (and I don’t mean Eddie Haskell’s humor.)

    Nother: Bourbon was invented by 18th century Welsh immigrants. The Welsh invented Whiskey and most corn-based liquor. Jack Daniels Bourbon, Evan Williams Bourbon and Mathews Southern Comfort were all first brewed by Welsh brewers who left Wales during the temperance period of the Welsh non-conformist church. (For example, Jack Daniels was born in Ceredigion). http://www.guildofglyndwr.co.uk/misc.htm

    Corn (and wheat for that matter) is a heavy nitrogen depleter and requires extensive fertilization to sustain it. The ethanol produced requires more fossil fuel to obtain it than the energy gained from the ethanol. The commercial fertilizer is a major pollutant and its runoff is destroying ecosystems and threatening the health of many creatures. The only efficient use of corn is for animal fodder where the whole plant is used and possibly shouldn’t depend on that or the animals to the extent this country does. The “green� benefits of corn are a BIG lie perpetrated by agribusinesses like ADM and large chemical companies like Monsanto who sell patented weed killer resistant seed and the fertilizer necessary for it to be economically viable and sell the weed killer which further pollutes our environment. It’s not life sustainable for humans without being treated with lye or some hydroxide to make the niacin available. With corn being a major staple in the South, pellagra was a scourge until they started making hominy by soaking it in a lye solution. We should find less environmentally damaging staples than corn and wheat for food products and use hydrogen derived from water using solar energy to power our lives.

  • jazzman

    In the midst of my rant, I forgot to mention how the Native Americans who genetically developed corn 10000 years before the principles of genetic engineering or Mendelian heredity were dreamt of, ecologically compensated for nitrogen depletion by planting beans (legumes fix nitrogen from the air into the soil) which climbed the cornstalk, and squash (the 3 sisters) all suitable for long term storage and somehow knew that treating the corn with wood ashes or lime kept pellagra at bay. And we think we’re so smart!!!

  • diemos3211

    jazzman: I thought that solar was, at this point, not really viable either in terms of providing enough energy to make up for the energy spent producing the solar panels (not to mention the sheer amount of space you would have to fill up with solar panels and what do you do if you live somewhere that’s usually cloudy?).

    I do recall reading something about a while back about some sort of nanotech photovoltaic paint that could even draw energy from the IR part of the spectrum (and thus work to some extent even when it was cloudy), but I would imagine that is still quite a way off from being useful. Ultimately I agree with you, I think that a combination of distributed solar for power generation and hydrogen for transport is the way that we will end up going I just don’t think we have the ability to do that yet.

    btw, thanks for so eloquently (and with facts no less!) pointing out why the ethanol push is a crock.

  • junec

    jazzman: ditto, (thanks for the eloquent posts above) well said. Yes, the Beave was a real challange. Like most parents Ward & I did our best. Sometimes even Dr. Spock can’t help.

  • jazzman

    Diemos3211 You’re correct about conventional silicon photo voltaic production as being a net energy drain. Even so the reduction in greenhouse gases would IMO be preferable to the crap being spewed into our atmosphere not to mention the ancillary ills associated with fossil fuels. Until technology is developed to use sunlight efficiently, there will be a net loss of energy but there are tradeoffs that are a better deal for us and the environment and other feasible power sources besides sunlight.

    http://www.hydrogen.co.uk/h2/h2_page2.htm I was suggesting using solar energy for electrolyzing water into hydrogen and oxygen rather than using it for direct electrical power.

    You are also correct that nanotechnology is making great strides in electricity and hydrogen production but that is also a double edged sword as carbon nanoparticles have been shown to prevent DNA replication and aluminum nanoparticles seem to severely stunt plant growth. Nanoparticle pollution is a downside that will have to be carefully studied and solved before large scale production occurs. The wholesale manufacture and use of plastic became ubiquitous and we are just now realizing the downside of this pervasive pollutant. The manufacturing by-products of plastic (how about plastic made of cornstarch which breaks down even faster) and other synthetics and the breakdown of plastic in the environment has shown to mimic hormones especially estrogen. This may be responsible for many undesirable phenomena that currently plague the environment and health. http://www.worldandi.com/public/2001/October/ee.html

  • Nikos

    Corn?

    Is this the price of so many of our nutrients originating in maize (btw, with fries [@ http://www.radioopensource.org/the-children-of-the-corn-subsidies/#comment-9561 ]: does your word preference betray you as a Michigan Wolverine?):

    American Medical Association report (3:30)

    Which has the healthier population — the United States or England? Anchor Lisa Mullins gets the answer from the author of a study being published in tomorrow’s The Journal of the American Medical Association which compares the health of each country’s population.

    http://theworld.org/latesteditions/05/20060502.shtml

    Not Corn

    Black Community Reacts to Immigration Protests

    Civil-rights leader Jesse Jackson, who supported yesterday’s demonstrations for immigrants’ rights as a “movement for social justice,â€? is calling on African Americans to make common cause with newly arrived Latinos, legal and otherwise. But the community is not a monolith and polls show that many blacks do not share Jackson’s support of the movement. Former Chicago City Councilman Cliff Kelley is host of The Cliff Kelley Show on WVON.

    http://www.kcrw.com/cgi-bin/db/kcrw.pl?tmplt_type=program&show_code=tp

  • phyzzy

    Corn is only one of the many subsized farm products. A comprehensive and detalied list of crop subsidizes by amount, by year and by recipient is compiled at http://www.ewg.com.

  • Why does America subsidies the crop and not the farmer? The UK does it the other way round, as do many other countries. While we pour huge amounts of resources into monocropping our fragile food supply is getting ready to collapse in this country. We are importing more and more cheap food while we grow GM corn and bankrupting our farmers. Is this right? Our priorities are backwards and if we don’t wake up now it may be too late, if it isn’t already.

  • Nother, you asked how I feel about ethanol. I’m not sure. Corn is a huge nutrient depleter. It takes massive amounts of fertilizer to produce the volumes we do. To grow corn sustainably, fields need to be rotated and rejuvenated with lots of compost and crops that replenish. I doubt we can grow it like that and provide enough fuel to meaningfully move us away from petroleum.

    Then there is also the consideration for the fuel consumption it takes to produce ethanol. I just don’t know.

    I think another good voice on this topic would be Jared Diamond. As we face the demise of our ability to produce food for ourselves, we head right toward the number one destroyer of civilizations: bad management of natural resources. You can read about that in his book “Collapse.”

  • h wally

    Is this tonights show?

  • Yes. re: “Corn is only one of the many subsized farm products” — though note that with sugar it’s the reverse. Sugar is protected; we have strict quotas on it so that we can’t benefit from lower world prices. And it’s comparitively more expensive than corn syrup. This as much I learned from Pollan– also see this NYT editorial.

  • and Pollan is talking about this right now. Which is why he’s a brilliant writer/researcher/speaker: he teaches me something.

  • h wally

    Let’s not give corn a bad name. On the cob it’s still a fine food.

  • h wally

    A processed variety of anything isn’t going to do you any good.

  • h wally — call it ‘scorn!

    as in, ‘swonderful! ‘smarvelous! ‘smonoculture!

    I think Pollan’s point is that we are processing corn (and soy) to a degree unlike anything else.

  • Even the cattle farming has turned water sources into toilet bowls. Because farmers have to increase the number of cattle on their land to make ends meet, they are producing far too much cow manure. Rivers and deltas are getting manure laden runoff from these farms. Ebola virus is geting into shellfish beds and dead zones are being created everywhere.

    We simply need to consume less.

  • h wally

    halliburton + corn

  • h wally

    Hello

  • stinkyralph

    only beef i have is re: engineering cattle to run on corn. the modern cow is totally man-made. we’re just continuing to tweak the design.

  • h wally

    Speaking of subsaties has anyone heard of Halliburton corn farm and ethanol production corp. Is there anything they’re not involved in. If you want to have some fun sometime just search: halliburton+—– insert almost any word and you’ll find something.

  • odchere

    Comment about the genetic modification of our corn stock and the resultant drop in our foreign grain sales due to boycotts of GEF, or GMF by nations such as Japan, Western Europe.

  • Why do we feel so entitled to everything being cheap? Why aren’t we forced to pay the real cost for producing things?

  • keelhaul

    I haven’t yet heard anything about methanol fueled vehicles; there’s a lot of grabage and pig poop out there. Comments welcome.

  • USDA’s Office of Energy Policy and New Uses put out a study a couple of years ago (unfortunately the link has gone bad). There was a very wide range on the value of total energy input vs energy value of alcohol derived from corn. One would reasonably assume that it is in their interest to make ethanol look good and the average energy input:output quoted in the study was 1.34.

    At 150 bushels corn per acre (a somewhat futuristic and fertilizer intensive yield) somewhat less than 400 gallons per acre, every square mile of about 8 states the size of Iowa would have to be planted with corn to fuel all cars (not counting trucks) with 100% ethanol today. [120000000000 / (400 * 640 * 55,000)] Then, given the optimistic input:output ratio, WE WOULD STILL NEED 1/1.34 = 0.75 AS MUCH OTHER ENERGY INPUT.

    The summary says, “Ethanol production uses abundant supplies of coal and natural gas to convert corn into a premium liquid fuel that can displace imported oil.” Coal may be abundant but is a major CO2 generator and polluting source.

    If we were to use ethanol to make ethanol, legislators could “make farmers happy” in 8 * 1.34 / (1.34 – 1) = 32 states the size of Iowa. Maybe if we first burn enough coal to make ethanol then global warming could make Canada a much better place to grow corn…

    The fact that Brazil is able to export ethanol economically is interesting. The economics of tropical sugar cane ethanol are apparently much better. However, one has to wonder what will happen to the rain forests (and the rain) if Brazil goes from supplying

  • JP

    Never mind the trickle down externalities (ie farming corn to fuel beef production), the real price of corn will likely NEVER include the environmental costs of degraded farmland, runoff to water bodies, etc.

  • h wally

    I’m for it keelhaul. Mother earth news has been pushing these vehicles for years.

  • (last comment cut off) … However, one has to wonder what will happen to the rain forests (and the rain) if Brazil goes from supplying

  • (coment cut off again – it must have been the symbol for “less than”) However, one has to wonder what will happen to the rain forests (and the rain) if Brazil goes from supplying less than 1 billion liters of ethanol to what would be the current global demand of equivalent 4 trillion liters of CH3COOH.

  • JP

    …But aren’t we ultimately paying higher prices? We all pay taxes, and the subsidies come from that collective pool of money we toss to the government anyway. Maybe the subsidies should be re-thunk to account for some of the externalities. Same goes for the ethanol project.

  • h wally

    halliburton+cronies. No connection there. Has our guest heard of:Halliburton corn farm and ethonol production corp.?

  • odchere

    Also, I just remembered the rest of the Monsanto seed story referenced above.

    Monsanto patented the Terminator Seed which self-destructs after one growing season. In nature, seeds are saved from growing season to growing season over millennia. African and Indian farmers and their UN representatives strongly objected to releasing this seed. Monsanto was trying to have the US Congress mandate the sale of this brand to nations receiving our foreigh aid for agriculature.

  • mulp

    Did I just hear the biggest bunch of cow hooey ever?

    There is a shortage of ethanol used to make gasoline according to the mandate so the refiners can refine oil to make the gasoline. So the refiners are backing up the tanker load of oil because they can’t refine them, so the tanker companies are charging higher shipping rates, presumabley, and then to get a lower price on shipping the oil producers are rushing more oil into the market but charging higher prices to pay for the shipping and making the oil more scarce, and that is while oil on the world market is three times what it was a few years ago.

    Ah, come on. bs.

    I might beleive the ethanol takes more energy to produce, if not for Brazil profitably competing with gasoline using farm produced ethanol without subsidies.

  • odchere

    Hey, Christopher, let’s get off of the ethanol conversation.

    Lets talk about the real NAFTA story. The corn stocks we dumped on Africa are parallel to dumping our dried milk on Jamaica, thereby destroying their milk farm production; we also did that with bananas when Dole insisted that we cut Jamaica out of the UK “most favored Colonial nation” list for buying their bananas…..thereby destroying Jamaica’s banana industry.

    Why are we telling only half of the story here?

  • Brazil is not a panacea. They are clear-cutting forests to be able to grow the sugar cane they use to produce ethanol. They don’t use corn which is less efficient. To offset the US’ domestic oil thirst, we would have to have sugar cane crops bigger than California — if we use corn it would be a crop larger than Texas. The bigger question is whether the carbon chain should be used at all. Whether we should talking more about the electric society with the advancements in battery technology and not stumble around with ethanol and/or hydrogen.

    http://www.centredaily.com/mld/aberdeennews/news/14470921.htm?source=rss&channel=aberdeennews_news

    http://256.com/gray/blog/2006/04/#25_1

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  • Nikos

    Don’t bother calling me a one-trick pony: I’ll do it myself. But not before pointing out this:

    All that talk in tonight’s show about mindlessly counterproductive subsidies isn’t the fault of the Donkeys or the Elephants. It’s the work of a Two Party State whose legislators are elected not by party but individually.

    They gotta bring home the bacon (or pork) right?

    It’s not really their fault: it’s the result of our unthinking acceptance of the Two Party State.

    It’s a result of our faithful acceptance of a faithless system wherein lobbyists serving the corporate interests trump anything resembling policy innovation between multiple parties – a political ‘ideas’ competition that would draw the most votes to the most sensibly creative public policies.

    Do you want more of the same?

    Of course not.

    Then why accept this hopelessly crooked system?

    The solution is a revision of the Constitution.

    Turn the House into a state-of-the-art parliament answerable not to the corporate interests represented by lobbyists but to the People that the Two Party State claims but fails to represent.

    And give the corrupted Presidency and the Senate the fate they deserve: ceremonial and rhetorical roles. (We can let the Senate continue to do investigations though, since they’re historically proficient at it.)

    One Trick Pony Nikos, signing out (for now).

  • odchere– the NAFTA angle was discussed this evening. Somebody (Pollan?) noted that we’re getting fatter while Mexicans are going hungrey (since they are no longer being protected from our subsidized corn).

  • khandro

    Great program, but I only ever catch the last few minutes. This time I was listening intently to the non-rational/corn/ethanol/fuel/consumer price of gasoline part at the end and someone, I’d like to know who (because I don’t remember it clearly enough), went on to say exactly the thing I didn’t even know I was hoping to hear: We have it all wrong. The way to rationalize these relationships is to consider the total (read hidden) cost of our food. The fuel (of any source) that goes into getting food onto our tables is not adequately or accurately reflected in the price of that food. We want it cheap, we buy it cheap, but the real cost is staggering. I don’t have a national much less an international solution to a problem of mind-numbing complexity, rife with price fixing and corruption as well as aching need, but I do something, have been doing something for decades that I think makes good sense economically, health-wise, and in the context of “think globally act locally”, something I take very seriously (while trying not to take myself that seriously, folks!) It is simply that I try to eat pursuant to my latitude. I love bananas and citrus but rarely buy them. Out of season strawberries from Mexico taste like the cardboard they come in so I wait till they’re ripe locally. What would the Mexican farmers grow if not strawberries for wealthy gringos up north? Maybe the corn they need for their own families and industries. The entire food supply/distribution/consumption pattern, as odious as it is, boils down to what we (those of us with enough resource and resources to even consider such things; we’re not watching our children starve after all) are willing to do without. I can’t do without coffee yet, but I’d be willing to try if it meant that acreage in Columbia in coffee would be turned into acreage for local foodstuffs. Likewise, I’d like to see acres of fertilized/pesticided/overwatered lawns, golf courses (sorry folks, personal opinion here!), and other swathes of fertile mid-latitude lands like ours turned into local fruit, berry and nut orchards, as well as community vegetable gardens. There is no intrinsic reason besides habit, wealth, and industry (an unholy trinity if ever) that keeps us wedded and bedded to fuel dependency linked to food supply. Other cultures and nations may not have the flexibility or luxury of these ruminations, but we do, I do. Without a sense of personal connection, even just a person of one, a kind of hopelessness can set in and then nothing changes. It was just that hoplessness that I was feeling, yet again, near the end of your program and then the speaker spoke and I nodded and agreed and was prompted to write. Thanks, and if someone knows who made those comments, in the last few minutes, I’d like to know.

  • khandro

    Oops, meant to suggest that we hear from Paul Hawken on this (or any!) topic of this nature.

  • prock

    I think the corn farmer hit the nail on the head. The answer is that we simply have to pay a lot more for our food – which should be sustainably produced.

  • injapan2

    I think a very key point was missed which I noticed while listening to the prices of corn production on my podcast player. According to the farmer on the program, he received $35,000 in subsidies, and then stated that the statistical cost of growing corn is somewhere around $2 per bushel. Later he stated the selling price of corn at $1.50 a bushel (my numbers may be slightly off, but near enough for my point). Therefore a farmer woulding be loosing $.5 a bushel, and that would mean all our farmer friend and his fellow farmers making corn would be the poorest of the poor. (Average amount of corn bushels per acre in Illinois= 145 x 300 stated acres the farmer said he had at -.5 dollars an acre -$21,750 for the said farmer’s farm yields, leaving him with $13,250 of the subsidy. However, the income of the average farm in Illinois is $90,700 for 2004 (a good year) and $43,600 for 2005. I could not tell if this included subsidies or not. (http://www.thesoydailyclub.com/Farm&Market/farmincome01102006.asp) However, it does easily show that the information and tear jerking statistics given from the farmer were misleading and mistaken at best. Farmers make profits without subsidies (though how much is vague) and that his estimate of costs was obviously fantasy.

  • injapan2

    Sorry, the income is not farmer’s income but the income from the farm itself. (Does not include any side jobs or other sources of income.)

  • I’m not sure that the incomes you mention are only from the one crop. This farmer said he also grows soy beans.

    Small family farms are not making profits these days. Except maybe some niche market farms.

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