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Forty years on, US farmers planted maize over an area almost as big as California, and the area growing soya isn't far behind.
Prices for these commodities have been low in recent years, perilously close to their costs of production. Yet, courtesy of the government, they have been the safest bet for the growers of the vast fields of American monocultures.
How these subsidised 'staple food' crops are streamed into the market is a lesson in itself .
Maize? Around 30-40% of the maize goes into livestock feed, or more accurately, into producing feed-lot intensively reared, unpasteurised meat and dairy. A whopping one-sixth to one-eighth of the maize becomes high-fructose corn syrup, an artificial sugar used for flavouring processed foods. The remaining 55-65% of maize is used to produce ethanolic fuel for cars.
COMMENT This 'staple food' subsidy isn't really growing any staple food for humans.
Soya? Like maize, more than half the soya crop goes into intensive livestock production, while the rest becomes cooking fat. The myriad soya-protein and other chemical extracts beloved by health-food enthusiasts, vegetarians and vegans come from the waste-products of the soya-oil industry elegantly described by Mara Khan as "a foul-smelling sludge formerly fed to cattle".
COMMENT Not much resembling 'staple food' there either.
Wheat and rice? Now, these must be used overwhelmingly as human food. Yes, but they are mostly stripped of their fibre and many of their nutrients before they get anywhere near our mouths.
COMMENT Think white bread, white rice.
Sorghum? US sorghum is grown to feed intensively reared livestock.
In summary, the plentiful supply of staple foods at reasonable prices assured by US government subsidies are unnatural fat-laden animal products, artificial sugar, processed foods high in salt and sugar because otherwise they wouldn't taste of anything, cooking oil without much in the way of useful nutrients, and car fuel. But they are cheap.
A recent study by US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took a snapshot view of the diet and cardiometabolic health of 10,308 Americans. It found that well over 50% of calories consumed come from the major subsidised food commodities either directly after processing or after conversion into animal produce. People who ate the most foods derived from subsidised crops had the highest risk of developing obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It was noted that the cost of treating these diseases exceeds government spending on farm support.
US farm subsidies aren't causing ill-health, but they're certainly part of the bigger picture of poor food quality and escalating chronic disease.
The study shines a new light on the GM crop issue, which in real terms means GM maize and GM soya. Without the government subsidies, farmers wouldn't be planting them because there's no profit in them. Note that GM wheat and rice, the only staples eaten directly, have been kept off the market because of US consumer rejection: the mythical 'acceptance' of GM 'food', in fact, simply refers to GM crop derivatives fed to animals or cars or processed beyond recognition.
Given the high level of ill-health science has found to be associated with high-GM staple food intake, the notion that GM has been 'proven' safe because so many people are eating it becomes really quite silly. No matter how sick GM-associated toxins are making people, these are being conveniently dwarfed by the poor quality 'food' staples they're bolstering.
The US government is doing a fine job of generating business for the health care and biotech industries, but support for its people ... ?
Make a New-Year's resolution to favour fresh, local, varied foods. And if you have friends or relatives in America who aren't already doing the same, give them some food-wise encouragement.
- Karen R. Siegel, et al., 2016, Association of Higher Consumption of Foods Derived From Subsidized Commodities With Adverse Cardiometaboilic Risk among US Adults, Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine, 5.07.16
- Tom Philpott, Practically All the Least HealthyFoods Have This One thing in Common, www.motherjones.com, 11.07.16
- Dr. Mercola, You Really are What You Eat, www.mercola.com, 22.02.16
- Mara J. Kahn, Vegan Betrayal, 2016, ISBN 978-0-9903413-2-1