“King Corn,” you are what you eat

October 17, 2007

Now out in limited theaters.

King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation.In King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat—and how we farm.

Subsidizing Obesity
Corn is the nation’s most-planted, most-processed, most-subsidized crop. More than 80 million acres of the heartland are planted in corn each year, and delivered to our tables:

“If you take a McDonald’s meal, you don’t realize it when you eat it, but you’re eating corn. Beef has been corn-fed. Soda is corn. Even the French fries. Half the calories in the French fries come from the fat they’re fried in, which is liable to be either corn oil or soy oil. So when you’re at McDonald’s, you’re eating Iowa food. Everything on your plate is corn.” — Michael Pollan, UC Berkeley, in King Corn

There is legislative logic to the flood of cheap corn-based foods. In 2005, federal subsidies spent $9.4 billion in taxpayer money to promote corn production. For Iowa farmers, these payments often mean the difference between profit and loss on a given acre. With subsidies promoting production beyond market demand, the raw materials for an obesity epidemic are readily at hand.

King Corn brings these issues to light just as Congress is set to debate the 2007 Farm Bill, a once-in-seven-years opportunity to change what our tax dollars subsidize and how we eat.

For further reading on corn, consult Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the Farm Subsidies Database at http://www.ewg.org/farm, or http://www.kingcorn.net.

Corn by the Numbers
On the farm…

Number of acres planted in corn in the U.S. in 1970 : 66.9 million
Number of acres planted in 2004 : 80.9 million
Number in 2007 : 92.9 million
Percent change since 1970: +39

Number of acres planted in corn in Iowa in 1970 : 10.8 million
Number of acres planted in 2007 : 14.3 million

Iowa’s average yield, in bushels per acre, of corn in 1970: 86
Iowa’s average yield, in bushels per acre, in 2007: 180
Percent change since 1970: +109

Number of acres planted in vegetables in the U.S. last year : 2 million
Number of acres planted in vegetables in Iowa last year : 2,800

Number if acres planted in sweet corn—for corn in the cob—in the U.S. last year : 253,500
Percentage of those acres that are in Florida, the number-one sweet-corn-growing state : 13
Rank of New York among top sweet-corn-growing states : 3

Last year in which a record was set in the U.S. for corn production, in bushels : 2004
Percentage points by which 2007 corn production is projected to exceed that record : +10.6
Number of bushels to be harvested in 2007 : 13.1 billion

In your body:

Rank of refined sugar, or sucrose, among most-used sweeteners in the U.S. in 1966 : 1
Rank in 2007: 2
Rank of high-fructose corn syrup in 2007: 1

Estimated percentage of high-fructose corn syrup consumed from beverages : 66
Rank of soft drinks among top beverages consumed by Americans : 1

Minimum percentage of a soda that is made up of high-fructose corn syrup : 7
Maximum percentage: 14
Percentage by which high-fructose corn syrup is cheaper than sugar : 60

Average, in pounds, of high-fructose corn syrup consumed by an American in 1970 : 0.6
Average, in pounds, consumed in 2000 : 73.5

Size, in ounces, of McDonald’s Supersize soda, discontinued in 2004: 42
Size, in ouces, of McDonald’s new extra-large soda, Hugo, introduced in 2007 : 42

Percentage of Americans categorized as overweight or obese in 1971 : 47.7
Percentage in 2004 : 66
Percentage of American children categorized as overweight or obese in 1971 : 4
Percentage in 2004 : 17.5

In our Wallets:

Rank of Iowa among states receiving the most money in corn subsidies: 1
Rank of New York: 16

Rank of corn growers among farmers receiving the most farm subsidies in Iowa: 1
Rank of corn growers among farmers receiving the most farm subsidies in New York: 1

Amount, in dollars, that Iowa corn farmers received in subsidies, 2003-2005: 3.4 billion
Amount that New York corn farmers received: 173 million
Amount, in dollars, received by Floyd County, IA corn farmers, 2003-2005: 37.5 million
Amount, in dollars, received by Greene, IA’s top recipient of subsidies: 364,693

Number of farm subsidy recipients in Greene, Iowa: 317
Population of Greene, Iowa: 1,015

Amount, in dollars, that the top 20% of subsidy recipients received, 2003-2005: 29.1 billion
Amount, in dollars, that the remaining 80% of recipients received: 5.6 billion
Amount, in dollars, received by the subsidy program’s single top recipient: 7.9 million

For more info and to order DVD go to: www.kingcorn.net

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