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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 Written by
KING CORN: A REVIEW The film King Corn is a propaganda piece and full of misleading statements.
First, the hair test that Dr Macko uses to estimate the percentage of corn in the diet, while useful for what it was intended, gives somewhat misleading results in this application. First, a little background on this test.
The test Dr. Macko is using to differentiate corn from other plant materials in the diets of humans and livestock utilizes the fact that a class of plants, called C4 plants, which includes corn, preferentially take up a different proportion of these two isotopes of carbon to make their tissues than do the class of C3 plants, which comprise the vast majority of other plants including forages.. These ratios of isotopes of carbon continue on in the food chain, and their proportions can be measured in the hair to determine which proportions of plants have been consumed, either C3 or C4 (assumed in the film to be corn).
What this film does not disclose however, is that livestock consume a number of other C4 plants in their rations other than corn. Sorghum is also a C4 plant. It is grown extensively throughout the West in dryer states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and parts of Colorado. In areas where it is grown it is used almost exclusively for livestock feeding. Thus, the above test would be incapable of differentiating an atom of carbon as coming from livestock fed corn or sorghum.
This same rationale would also apply to millet, which is also a C4 plant used for livestock feeding, grown in the northern central states, chiefly the Dakotas and Nebraska.
When we turn to plant foods directly consumed by humans, we also find a problem with the test used. Sugar cane is also a C4 plant, and thus the sugar derived from it would be indistinguishable from corn in whatever form consumed as far as the hair test described.
These factors thus makes this test somewhat unreliable as a measure of exactly how much corn is in our diet, either directly or in the diets of the livestock we consume.
Next, I want to turn to their description of cattle feeding, and their reporting of its effects. It is somewhat disappointing that the makers of this film did not avail themselves of the opportunity to educate themselves as to the facts regarding the cattle feeding industry when they had a good opportunity to do so. First, as to their claim that feeding corn causes death within 120 days. Curiously, their reference for this appears to be a random passer-by they met during filming. The reality is quite different.
The grain or energy component of the ration is balanced with whatever grain happens to be available and most cost effective locally. In the Mid-west that would be corn. In other parts of the western US, sorghum, millet or barley would be the energy component of choice, and in the eastern US soft wheat would often be the feed of choice.
Dairy cows are also fed a high concentrate ration required for high milk production. They are feed high rates of grain over many milking cycles with obviously no early death, as a high value dairy cow obviously would not be fed such high grain diets if it would lead to early death.
Now let us turn to the corn plant itself, which in the film is strangely attacked and demonized. One of the most reprehensible parts of the film was the interview with the Harvard professor, who repeatedly made statements to the effect that corn is a non-food, is nutritionally empty, and has been deliberately bred to be so. This is quite misleading. This Harvard professor should know quite well (or maybe he doesn't ?!) that corn, along with all plants domesticated by humanity over many millennia have been extensively selected for different varieties used for different purposes.
In the case of corn, our North American native grain, it consists of a number of varieties hand selected both during prehistoric times and by many generations of traditional farmers. We currently have 4 major types; sweet corn, used for eating fresh and canning, flour corn, used for milling into corn meal for human consumption, the well known popcorn, and dent corn, also know as field or feed corn.
Field corn has been selected specifically to produce the energy source or carbohydrate portion of animal feeds.
Corn is one of the handful of staple grains producing the main food source for human beings. These grain staples, including corn, wheat, rice, barley and sorghum, produce collectively 90% of the calories required by human beings worldwide. World civilization as we know it could not exist without these staple grains. To say that carbohydrates, by far the greatest requirement in the human and animal diet and which are used for energy production, are "empty" calories is certainly a misstatement. There are no "empty" calories or "bad" foods. There are only good and bad diets. To expect that one food would have all the components of a healthy diet is naive. This is the reason all responsible nutritionists continually speak of eating a variety of foods.
In summary, to think that farmers here or in other countries will stop planting corn is quite unrealistic. We have the lowest grain supplies worldwide today since the last days of World War II. We will be planting more corn going forward, or at least we will try.
I salute these young college people for their idealism, and their concern for the HFCS issue. I can only say that their credibility on this issue would not have been damaged quite so badly if they had stuck to the facts.
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