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Corn, Drought, and Hunger

The drought in the Midwest is causing concern about the increasing prices of corn and other crops as their supply drastically decreases. However, prior to the drought bringing crop prices to headline status, waste and misuse have been the standard with our taxes providing outrageously large and misguided subsidies… mostly to animal feed crops that don’t directly feed our families.

The trouble is that animals eat much more food than they produce. It is a very inefficient process that wastes vast amounts of crops. These crops would feed many more people if used as food directly.  In fact, eighty percent of all the crops grown in the United States go into livestock feed.

The USDA reports that “sweet corn, eaten by humans, is distinct from field corn (used for feed) and is not being heavily affected by adverse weather at this point.”  With corn and the other crops, the drought is primarily placing strain livestock feed. Perhaps this drought will encourage dialogue about subsidized crops so that the government places a higher priority on the farming of fresh produce for direct consumption.

The following is taken from the EPA’s website:

Corn: The United States is, by far, the largest producer of corn in the world. Corn is grown on over 400,000 U.S. farms. In 2000, the U.S. produced almost ten billion bushels of the world’s total 23 billion bushel crop. Corn grown for grain accounts for almost one-quarter of the harvested crop acres in this country. Corn grown for silage (animal feed) accounts for about two percent of the total harvested cropland or about 6 million acres. The amount of land dedicated to corn silage production varies based on growing conditions. In years that produce weather unfavorable to high corn grain yields, corn can be “salvaged” by harvesting the entire plant as silage.

According to the National Corn Growers Association, about eighty percent of all corn grown in the U.S. is consumed by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry, and fish production. The crop is fed as ground grain, silage, high-moisture, and high-oil corn. About 12% of the U.S. corn crop ends up in foods that are either consumed directly (e.g. corn chips) or indirectly (e.g. high fructose corn syrup). It also has a wide array of industrial uses including ethanol, a popular oxygenate in cleaner burning auto fuels.

While covering the drought, The San Francisco Chronicle introduced us to Kenny Brummer, an Illinois corn farmer. Mr. Brummer has lost “800 acres of corn that he grows to feed his 400 head of cattle and 30,000 hogs.” Crop insurance will cover up to 150 bushels per acre. But no coverage is available for Brummer’s livestock, so he figures he’ll lose $350,000 to $400,000 on that side of the operation.

The article also mentions: “Already tight supplies and fears that the drought will get worse before it gets better have been pushing up grain prices, which are likely to translate into higher food prices for consumers, particularly for meat and poultry.”

The drought has the potential to increase retail prices for beef, pork, poultry, and dairy products later this year and into 2013.  But in the short-term, there may be increases in meat supply as higher feed costs lead to herd culling (the “removal” of less desirable cows). This extra supply could decrease prices for some meat products in the short-term, but that trend should reverse when product supplies eventually shrink.

When the experts report on increasing food prices, they neglect the inefficiency of meat and the role of livestock on climate change. It’s imperative that we connect the dots between the raising of livestock, high food prices, and environmental devastation (especially climate change).

At A Well-Fed World we advocate the redistribution of subsidies away from corn and other feed crops to fresh fruits and vegetables (especially for those in need).  Also, by promoting plant-based foods we lessen the demand for meat and other animal products helping decrease agribusiness’ push for feed subsidies. Finally, plant-based foods eaten directly instead of funneled through animals, can decrease food prices and increase food security around the world.

Invisible Costs of Factory Farms

A recent report from the Rodale Institute took the time to summarize Daniel Imhoff’s book: CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, in which the truth of modern animal agriculture is described in a series of essays.  Contributors include Wendell Berry, Wenonah Hauter, Fred Kirschenmann, Anna Lappé, Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser.

There are three main lies perpetuated by the agriculture industry that this book succeeds in exposing:  Lie #1: Industrial Food Is Cheap, Lie #2: Industrial Food Is Efficient, Lie #3: Industrial Food Is Healthy.

Lie # 1: Industrial Food Is Cheap: The “cheap” price of animal products fails to reveal many hidden costs. The retail prices overtly omit the price paid to the environment, public health and animal welfare.

The environmental destruction caused by factory farms is at a dangerous level. For example, in order to grow feed for livestock, the soil and water are routinely treated with pesticides. Second, our water bodies are compromised with animal waste. Lastly, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions emitted from the livestock industry have been cited as greater than all transportation combined.

It is increasingly becoming common knowledge that diets high in animal based foods are resulting in several serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several cancers. Annual costs for these diseases in the United States alone exceed $33 billion. In addition, because animals are routinely treated with antibiotics in order to combat their unnatural living conditions, we are facing a serious public health issue of antibiotic resistance.

The biggest invisible cost is in the form of animal suffering. The animals on factory farms face unimaginable living conditions. See our page on Factory Farms for an outline of what animals raised for food endure.

Lie #2: Industrial Food Is Efficient: Indeed CAFO’s produce a large quantity of “products” for a relatively “cheap” cost. However, it is commonly misconstrued that a high level of productivity equates to efficiency.  A quick glance at the output of milk, meat and eggs may help inflate the illusion of efficiency, but a closer look reveals a startling reality.  Regarding protein output, eating animals is highly inefficient.  Animals consume many more calories than they produce. For example, pigs convert 5.9 pounds of feed into a pound of pork. Cattle require 13 pounds of feed per pound of beef, though some estimates range much higher. To supplement that feed, one-third of the world’s ocean fish catch is ground up and added to rations for pigs, broiler chickens, and farmed fish. Adding to their inefficiency is the contribution factory farms make to pollution, waste, and public health scares such as E. coli and salmonella, which are funded by public tax money in the form of grain subsidies.

Lie #3: Industrial Food Is Healthy: Death and illness relating to diets based in animal foods is at an all time high. According to the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, meat and dairy foods contribute all of the cholesterol and are the primary source of saturated fat in the typical American diet. We are facing staggering statistics on obesity and high blood pressure which often leads to a larger incidence of heart disease (currently the leading cause of death in the U.S.).  Another hidden factor of our reliance on animal foods is the affect our consumption and lifestyle has on the global community.  We are a window to many developing countries, and they are starting to emulate our destructive habits.

These reasons and more are why A Well-Fed World promotes plant-based solutions for health, hunger and environmental concerns, creating a healthy, well-fed world for all.

Celebrity Promotes Heifer Without The Facts

Using a celebrity to promote a cause is nothing new. However, it’s dangerous when celebrities promote organizations that do more harm than good (in this case for global hunger and animals).  Recently, we came across a commercial in which Alton Brown of the Food Network is enthusiastically promoting Heifer International.

This particular commercial entitled, “Where’s My Goat?”  makes several egregious claims that I will break down here: he first exaggerates the benefits by claiming that this goat gift will be the equivalent of helping a family start a small business. He does so in his Alton Brown-esque tone, claiming the wool, clothes, milk and eggs from the goat and will build income for the family. Goat eggs? Not only income, but this gift of a goat will help the family have a “sustainable livelihood.” He then goes on to say that the baby goat will soon make other baby goats and the offspring can be passed on to other families.

Unfortunately, many parts of the world where dairy goats and cows are sent have a large incidence of lactose intolerance, and animal products are often not part of the country’s diet. Promoting the increased consumption of animal products is harmful for global hunger, public health and the environment. See more about the complexities of hunger on our website.

A quick look into Heifer’s website and we see that part of their mission is to “end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.” We at A Well-Fed World have a very similar mission although our strategies for achieving these goals are far different. To cultivate a society where no one is hungry and malnourished, we need to move away from a diet based on animal products.  See more on our website about The Dark Side of Heifer.

It is increasingly common knowledge that raising animals to be slaughtered for food is inherently inefficient. The consumption of these products has created one of the most unhealthy generations in history and is devastating our planet. With this information tied into the beliefs that animals are not commodities to be bought and sold, we can save both people and animals by sending plant-based food to children and families and supporting plant-based agriculture for ongoing, sustainable food security.

To put these solutions into practice for the Holidays, we have launched a new campaign, Feed More International, as a direct alternative for those who want to feed people in need without exploiting animals. Find out more and help us help others.