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Is Feeding the Hungry More Important than Staying Obese and Diseased?

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Senate Republicans, including John McCain, are asking the EPA to suspend plans to increase corn ethanol production for biofuels because of rising food prices [1].


Setting aside this apparent and sudden desire to regulate a free market and display concern for the poor coming from the Republicans, let’s just look at how the U.S. corn crop is currently used.


Only 11.7% [2] of the U.S. crop is consumed in the U.S. as “food” – mostly in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners (6.5%) used in soft drinks and linked to obesity and other diseases and also in the form of beverage alcohol (1.2%) used in hard drinks and linked, obviously, to alcoholism.


Ethanol production accounts for 18.5% of the U.S. crop. Exports (helping to fee the rest of the world) account for 19.3%.


So far, that totals to less than half of corn production. Where does the other 50.3% go?


We feed the rest to animals. Unfortunately, beef cattle are not well-adapted for digesting corn—it tends to cause them health problems [3], necessitating the use of antibiotics which, in turn, find their way into our food supply, making new diseases more antibiotic-resistant. While fatter beef may taste better to some, it has been linked to heart disease and stroke.


It should be a no-brainer: Should Americans give up obesity, heart disease, strokes and other chronic inflammatory diseases in order to feed the world’s poor? It should especially be a no-brainer if, at the same time, we can give up one of our largest sources of greenhouse gasses (methane from feedlots) and water table pollution (waste from feedlots).


But, it turns out, we don’t even have to give up our precious juicy burgers and cokes/pepsis to feed the world’s poor because the same corn can be used for both ethanol production and cattle feed. Ethanol production produces “distiller’s grain” as a by-product which can be re-used as animal feed and apparently is healthier for the animals.


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Marcus B is a free-lance consultant, writer, website developer and activist for election reform.
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