Another reason to not consume HFCS

>> Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I came across this article from the Washington Post from last March that talks about the toll that HFCS takes on the environment. It's an interesting argument for avoiding HFCS - not that I need yet another reason to avoid it.

Exerpt from: High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Not So Sweet for the Planet

Sunday, March 9, 2008; Page N02

Much ink has been devoted to the dietary hazards of high-fructose corn syrup, the cheap, ubiquitous sweetener found not just in soda and Twinkies but in many foods that aren't even considered sweets, such as bread and ketchup. Though the jury's still out on whether the substance is to blame for rising obesity rates, environmentalists have been trumpeting another reason to avoid it: Doing so is a step toward going green.

High-fructose corn syrup "may be cheap in the supermarket, but in the environment it could not be more expensive," Michael Pollan, author of "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" (Penguin Press, 2008), writes in an e-mail.

Most corn is grown as a monoculture, meaning that the land is used solely for corn, not rotated among crops. This maximizes yields, but at a price: It depletes soil nutrients, requiring more pesticides and fertilizer while weakening topsoil.

"The environmental footprint of HFCS is deep and wide," writes Pollan, a prominent critic of industrial agriculture. "Look no farther than the dead zone in the Gulf [of Mexico], an area the size of New Jersey where virtually nothing will live because it has been starved of oxygen by the fertilizer runoff coming down the Mississippi from the Corn Belt. Then there is the atrazine in the water in farm country -- a nasty herbicide that, at concentrations as little as 0.1 part per billion, has been shown to turn male frogs into hermaphrodites."

Milling and chemically altering corn to form high-fructose corn syrup also is energy-intensive. That's not to say that corn is evil and other foods aren't; all crops require energy to grow and transport. What makes corn a target is that federal subsidies -- and tariffs on imported sugar -- keep prices low, paving the way for widespread use of high-fructose corn syrup and, in the process, keeping the American palate accustomed to the sweetness it provides.

{read the rest of the article for more good stuff}


fatfighter September 9, 2008 at 3:10 PM  

That's definitely ANOTHER great reason to pass on the HFCS!

Juliet September 9, 2008 at 6:32 PM  

Thank you for passing along the article! :) It is so sad to see the food industry carelessly filling up our foods with so many bad ingredients...

Fred September 10, 2008 at 2:08 PM  

Corn is grown as a monoculture, as nearly all food crops are, but that doesn't mean it isn't put into a crop rotation. Normally corn is rotated with soybeans. Every farmer knows that growing corn on corn is begging for trouble, just as growing wheat on wheat or beans on beans.

All nutrients flushed down the Mississippi River system contribute to the dead zone in the Gulf. As a retired farmer, it scares me to watch what my son's suburban neighbors dump on their lawns. They're much less careful with chemicals than the average farmer.

Remember Samuel Johnson's definition of oats? That it's a grain fed to horses in England and eaten by people in Scotland. In the U.S. corn is a grain fed to livestock, not people. The primary use for corn as human food is high fructose corn syrup.

However, I think that high fructose corn syrup is a factor in the obesity epidemic in America, and now Europe. One of the tests for causation is time order, and high fructose corn syrup use is coterminous with the rise in obesity.

I like watching old movies, and I keep noticing how thin the people were, even old actors. Empty calories and lack of exercise have really done a number on us.

cathy September 10, 2008 at 3:16 PM  

Fred - I'm no farmer, so I appreciate your insight! Corn seems to be dominating the food - and non-food (like in ethanol) - scene so much these days that it scares me. So much can be written on this - and others have already, I'm sure - maybe a later post. Hope to hear more from you on future posts!

Fred September 10, 2008 at 7:04 PM  

Hi Cathy. You posted on my son's blog "Mostly Gray," so that's how I came across your blog.

There are so few people directly connected to farming that most people don't know how it really works.

All biological organisms are totally dependent on energy inputs, be they autotrophs, like corn, which use solar energy to synthesize organic molecules, or heterotrophs, which harvest the production of autotrophs. For a good introduction to energy flow in nature, see the writings of University of Manitoba energetics professor Vaclav Smil.

Corn has gotten a reputation as some kind of monster plant. But it's simply one of the most energy and water efficient plants in our food production repertoire. As a C4 photosynthesis pathway plant it is inherently more efficient than a C3 plant like wheat. That is why it is grown in such large acreages.

Soil type, water budget (ratio of potential evaporation to annual precipitation) and growing-degree days (the amount of heat units a plant absorbs) determine to a large degree what is grown. These factors are not in a farmer's control.

The other key factor that is, is marketing. Corn has beaucoup markets, because, as the world's primary feedgrain, it is in high demand for meat production, the demand for which has been skyrocketing worldwide, especially in East Asia.

The companion crop to corn, soybeans, is also the high protein companion feedgrain. There's a symbiotic relationship there: corn provides the carbohydrates and soybeans the protein.

For 10,000 years we've been using primarily annual plants to harvest solar energy for us and convert it into food we or our animals can use. Annuals are disturbance plants. They thrive in disturbed soils and are miners, rather than builders, of soil. Farming in the U.S. is moving away from tillage, primarily for economic and soil conservation reasons, but some tillage will always be necessary for annuals agriculture.

I'm hoping that research into cellulosic ethanol will help us unlock the vegetative parts of plants for direct use as food by non-herbivores. Perennials are low-fertility plants and require very little input. Cellulose is a carbohydrate polymer composed of a long chain of thousands of glucose molecules. Snip that chain apart and you not only produce feedstock for alcohol production, but you also produce the form of sugar that all food we absorb is converted to for use by our bodies at the cellular level.

MizFit September 11, 2008 at 2:34 AM  

Im so in awe of how youve made the COULD BE CONFUSING clear and easily grasped by masses (read: me)

it's that PhD huh?


cathy September 11, 2008 at 5:43 AM  

Thanks, MizFit! High praise coming from you!

ashley September 11, 2008 at 6:43 AM  

Have you seen the new HFCS commercial? Crazy!

Interesting article. Good to know!

Mark Salinas September 11, 2008 at 8:46 AM  

Wow! Thanks for the info.

cathy September 11, 2008 at 8:48 AM  

Ashley - I have! Completely insane! Thinking of writing a post on it...

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