From a Stanford University lecture in 2000, “Corn: Species Hybridization”, I learned that corn surpasses all others for diversity within the species, except for…..dogs! Both travelled far north and south along the mountainous spine of North and South America, with such a variety of conditions like the number of  daylight hours, that both had to diversify to survive.


Traveling across the upper Midwestern states, we have been mostly surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans, and heard the corn adages: “Knee high by the 4th of July” (predicts a good harvest later), and “High As An Elephant’s Eye” (time to harvest). Almost all corn, world-wide, are grown from genetically modified seed, designed to work with chemicals to reduce pest damage. To ensure that farmers keep paying for the chemicals every year, the GMO seeds do not activate the pest resistant qualities without chemical application. Pretty savvy, pretty corporate…and it works that way world-wide. Canada bars the use of GMO seeds for some of their crops, like the tasty Prince Edward Island potatoes we so love. As global warming heats up the Midwest by only 2 degrees, impairing corn production dramatically, production is destined to move north into wetter central Canada. It will be interesting  see what happens to GMO corn production when Canada calls the shots.


With the USA producing 40% of the world’s corn, it is our biggest crop, and our biggest lobby (called “King Corn” in Washington), so where does it go? 40% is government mandated for production of ethanol fuel under the “renewable” fuel act until 2022, 58% of the remaining corn produced is used as animal feed, and the rest for human consumption. Unfortunately, cattle are grass eating ruminators with 4 stomachs, and get lesions on their livers trying to process corn and soybean as feed. Then those lesions have to be treated with antibiotics to keep the cattle alive until butchering. The antibiotics (and cattle growth hormones) are in our milk and beef, and we wonder why young American women begin puberty years earlier than the norm, and we also are creating antibiotic resistant bacteria.


Michael Pollen, for his book, “Ominvore’s Dilemna”, follows a calf he purchased, as it passes through the commercial beef process, except for the slaughterhouse where he was denied access to his adult steer. He found that the steer had a very high DNA “corn footprint”, and proceeded to research American consumers’ DNA corn footprint. It was higher than Mexicans, whose diet is based predominantly on beans and corn tortillas. This was confirmed at the corn exhibit at Mitchell’s Corn Palace in South Dakota by the following quote:


Who knew! 25 corn plants a day to act like a good American. It is not just fuel, and animal feed for beef, pork, chicken/eggs and commercially raised fish that provide us with corn DNA.  58% of non-nutritive sweeteners (eg. not Splenda/Stevia) come from corn products. Many products are sweetened with corn syrup as it is cheap, and it is often added to enhance flavor, to compensate for diminished fat content, to obtain the “low-fat” moniker. Stanford University, along with  Purdue University are leading world-wide corn researchers, especially as it relates to global climate change. Corn has already proved itself extremely fragile with even 2 degrees of warming. Many are suggesting that we act NOW to slow global warming by doing the following: 1) stop the corn subsidy; and 2) convert decreasing production corn fields to prairie grasslands for cattle grazing.


Furthermore, because corn-based ethanol delivers little, if any, ecological advantage over petroleum-based gasoline, if 24.7 acres (more than a quarter of land currently devoted to corn) were converted to pastureland, it would reduce by 36%, the carbon emissions from agricultural land use, more than offsetting the effects of cow-related greenhouse gas emissions like methane. What is not to like about replacing chemical intensive agriculture, with a carbon sink, that produces high quality beef, and solid farm income for farmers as a bonus? …Not that “King Corn” (with formidable power in political circles) will ever allow Congress to pass a farm bill that doesn’t create more profits for Monsanto, Syngenta (seed and chemical suppliers), Cargill, and Archer Daniel Midland, and Tyson (who convert corn into meat, ethanol, sweeteners and a wide range of food ingredients.


Soybean production world wide is also predominantly based on genetically modified seeds and chemical treatment. 85% of world soybeans are used for animal feed and edible oil, with increasing use as biofuel. Brazil has surpassed the US in soybean production due to the huge amount of water and arable land available for production. China is the 4th largest producer, applying soybeans mostly for animal feed as Chinese meat and other animal protein consumption has increased rapidly with the increased personal wealth of its citizenry. So, your question of the day…”Who is going to be harder to convince to replant decreasingly productive corn fields with pastureland, thereby making a significant contribution to slow global warming and improve food quality…the USA? or China? I wouldn’t lay odds on this one.


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About Sally

A Studio Artist and painter trained at Stanford university, Sally has since then graduated from a long career as an Attorney with the Public Defender, and returned to painting. Living in Mexico with her son for a year, they adopted a feral dog, Lety. Sally's son left for college and their dog adopted her new best friend, Steven.


    1. Steven

      Thanks, Barbara! I was shocked to learn about the powerful corn lobby, especially in regard to ethanol production. It is great to be less reliant on foreign fuel, but such a price we pay! I hope you and our book group gals are thriving, and enjoying the great Bay Area weather. Miss you. Say Hi to the gals for me.

  1. Jan Grant

    Sally, you out did yourself. You are singin’ to the choir, my friend. Michael Pollen would be proud! Excellent article, as always. Very frustrating topic, to be sure.


    1. Steven

      Oops. Something goofed up. I hope I am not resending…Thanks for your kind words. He is awesome isn’t he? My kind of science writer. Michael Pollen makes me so respectful of plants’ ability to adapt in response to environmental change. His book, “The Botany of Desire” is scary just like, “Omnivore’s Dilemma”; we are so narrowing the plants’ ability to do what they do best: adapt rapidly to environmental changes for the purpose of long term survival. As humans, we are so lousy at rapid adaptation, due to our addictions, including our addiction to control. He makes a good point that in the “dance of domestication”, we are the ones manipulated and domesticated, far more than plants. Thanks again, Jan. I miss you, racing gal. I know you are on the S.F. waterfront, or out on “Music” watching Oracle get creamed by New Zealand. The thorniest conditions yet are predicted for the race today…enjoy! Kills me not to be there for the first Americas Cup in San Francisco. Love, Sal

    1. Steven

      Hi Calista. We are happy to be in the West finally! Cool and dry at the Continental Divide!!! Getting excited, (and scared) that the lakes in Montana, our next planned stop on the way to the Canadian Rockies…freeze as early as November 1st…Canadian Rockies, even earlier. Yikes! That means we need to rush North. On the other hand, we retired so we could stop rushing…we haven’t been to the warmer winter parts of Colorado, Arizona, Great Basin NP in Nevada, Austin, San Antonio, and Big Bend NP in Texas. Hmmm, for the first time, we don’t have a firm travel plan. The weather is so nice here in Wyoming, it is just hard to get a move on to somewhere else….maybe we will rent a cabin here (insulated, please!) for the winter? Anyway, we will see you back in California at some point…just not sure when that might be….Miss you. Happy Birthday, and hugs to the kids and grandkids…isn’t retirement just so awesome!

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