Thursday, August 01, 2013

GMO Part 4. Does the USA Feed the World?


Food, Antibiotics & Pesticides - Food Chain or Profit Stream?

A lot of confusion reigns when debating the role of the United States in feeding the world.  The following review of agriculture production in America will give you many of the answers you seek.

In a nutshell, we don't feed the world but we supply a whole lot of the food it needs to maintain the status quo.  However, productions only part of the equation.  For instance, how much of the food we produce is even intended for "human" consumption?

You may be stunned by the result.

For example, the United States  produces 32% of the world's corn crop.  About 20% of all USA corn production is exported out of the country.  Sounds like quite a lot of corn but it is the largest single crop grown in the world.

Yet 80% of the corn grown annually is used for animal feed for domestic and foreign livestock, poultry, and fish production.  I did say 80% of all production goes to feed animals and not the two-legged kind.
Numbers can be deceiving.  You need to hear the numbers, and the facts behind the numbers so you can fairly assess what is going on in this world.

We know 1.6 billion humans rely on local, family type farms for their food supply in which the farmers save their own seeds rather than buy them from the new farmers coop, the monolithic, multi-national, agricultural biotech corporations.
The very agricultural economy Germans brought to America in the 1800's is what is saving much of the world from starvation today.

Ironic isn't it?  We have evolved beyond the self-sufficient family farms of the turn of the last century.  As late as 1900 most American farmers were of German ancestry because they were widely regarded as the best husbandmen in the land.

Today those family farms in America have been largely replaced by corporate farms in the form of livestock feedlots, massive chicken complexes, fish farms and GMO driven field crops.
What drove this evolution of corporate farming and near extinction of the family farm since 1900?  Well, no matter what high and mighty public service is being gained by the destruction of family farms, I tend to be a little more jaundice in my analysis of this cultural shift.

To me behind all the "holier than thou" justifications bantered about there are two underlying realities called "antibodies" and "pesticides" combined with corporate America's insatiable obsession with greed.

It's no accident "greed" is one of the Cardinal sins or Seven Deadly sins of the Christian teachings.

Penicillin was the first antibiotic, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1929, but it was not until the early 1940s that its true potential was acknowledged and large scale fermentation processes were developed for the production of antibiotics.

A few decades ago the owners of this multi-billion dollar industry realized they were destroying the immune system with the massive amounts of antibiotics being pumped into us through medicine and they needed a new market to sell the profit-rich drugs.
How about we take all the cows into feedlots, chickens into giant barns and fish into fish farms and forever change the face of agriculture.  In order for these critters to survive in such an unnatural environment we can use the antibiotics on the cows instead of the people, thus creating a massive new market.

Today 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States goes to chicken, pigs, cows and other animals that people eat, yet producers of meat and poultry are not required to report how they use the drugs — which ones, on what types of animal, and in what quantities.
By 2011 antibiotic sales for human use totaled 7.7 million pounds in America while animal use sales topped 29.9 million pounds.  Projected sales of antibiotics worldwide exceed $65 billion for 2014.

Like antibiotics pesticides exploded on the scene around World War II.  As you will note from the following list of types of pesticides there is something for everyone in this global market now worth $45 billion a year.
The major classes of pesticides are as follows:

Type of Pesticide - Target Pest Group

Acaricide - Mites, ticks, spiders

Antimicrobial -  Bacteria, viruses, other microbes

Attractant -  Attracts pests for monitoring or killing

Avicide - Birds

Fungicide -  Fungi

Herbicide Weeds

Insecticide -  Insects

Molluscicide -  Snails and slugs

Nematicide -  Nematodes

Piscicide -  Fish

Predacide -  Vertebrate predators

Repellent - Repels pests

Rodenticide - Rodents

Synergist - Improves performance of another pesticide
In the United States, pesticides are used on 900,000 farms and in 70 million households. Herbicides are the most widely used type of pesticide. Agriculture uses 75% of all pesticides, but 85% of all U.S. households have at least one pesticide in storage, and 63% have one to five stored. A Minnesota survey 5 found that on a per-acre basis urban dwellers use herbicides for lawn care at rates equal to those used by farmers for food production.
I suspect the need to protect and expand the combined market of $110 billion for antibiotics and pesticides as much as anything explains the push for packaged food products and expanded requirements for preservatives.

Add to that the fact chemical company patents on major drugs in these categories are expiring and the real market is already saturated and it seems "bottom line profit" is the greatest incentive for flooding the human and animal market with more stuff that is bad for us, for our immune system, and for our environment.
Major Crops Grown in the United States

In round numbers, U.S. farmers produce about $ 143 billion worth of crops and about $153 billion worth of livestock each year. Production data from the year 2011 for major agricultural crops grown in this country are highlighted in the following:
Major agricultural crops produced in the United States in 2011
(excluding root crops, citrus, vegetable, etc.)

Corn (grain)    84 million harvested acres           $63.9 billion

Soybeans         73.8 million harvested acres         $37.6 billion

Hay                  55.7 million harvested acres            $6.7 billion

Wheat             45.7 million harvested acres          $14.6 billion

Cotton              9.5 million harvested acres            $8.3 billion

Sorghum         3.9 million harvested acres             $1.3 billion

Rice                  2.6 million harvested acres            $2.9 billion

U.S. USDA. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Crop Production. March 8, 2013.

Corn: The United States is, by far, the largest producer of corn in the world, producing 32 percent of the world's corn crop in the early 2010s.  Corn is grown on over 400,000 U.S. farms. The U.S. exports about 20 percent of the U.S. farmer's corn production. Corn grown for grain accounts for almost one quarter of the harvested crop acres in this country. Corn grown for silage 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. Additionally, corn farming has become exponentially more efficient. If U.S. farmers in 1931 wanted to equivalently yield the same amount of corn as farmers in 2008, the 1931 farmers would need an additional 490 million acres!

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 National Corn Growers Association also reports that each American consumes 25 pounds of corn annually. 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). Cornhas a wide array of industrial uses including ethanol, a popular oxygenate in cleaner burning auto fuels.  In addition many household products contain corn,  including paints, candles, fireworks, drywall, sandpaper, dyes, crayons, shoe polish, antibiotics, and adhesives.

National Corn Grower's Association 2013 Report. N.p., 11 Feb. 2013. Web.

U.S. USDA. Economic Research Service. Corn: Trade. N.p. Web.

Soybeans: Approximately 3.06 billion bushels of soybeans were harvested from 73.6 million acres of cropland in the U.S. in 2011. This acreage is roughly equivalent to that of corn grown for grain (84 million acres in 2011).Soybeans rank second, after corn, among the most-planted field crops in the U.S. Over 279,110 (2007 Census of Agriculture) farms in the U.S. produce soybeans making the U.S. the largest producer and exporter of soybeans. , accounting for over 50% of the world's soybean production and $3-4 billion in soybean and product exports in the late 2000s. Soybeans represent 50 percent of world oilseed production.
Soybeans are used to create a variety of products, the most basic of which are soybean oil, meal, and hulls. According to the United Soybean Board, soybean oil, used in both food manufacturing and frying and sautéing, is the number one edible oil in the U.S.  Currently, soybean oil represents approximately 65 percent of all edible oil consumed in the United States, down from about 79 percent in 2000 due to controversy over trans-fat. Soybean oil also makes its way into products ranging from anti-corrosion agents to Soy Diesel fuel to waterproof cement. Over 30 million tons of soybean meal is consumed as livestock feed in a year. Even the hulls are used as a component of cattle feed rations.

U.S. USDA. ERS. Characteristics and Production Costs of U.S. Soybean Farms. N.p., Mar. 2002. Web.

U.S. USDA. ERS. Soybeans and Oil Crops: Background. Web. Accessed 4 Apr. 2013. <
U.S. USDA. ERS. Soybeans and Oil Crops: Trade. Web. Accessed 4 Apr. 2013.

United Soybean Board. New QUALISOY Efforts Reach out to Educate Soybean Value Chain. March 2013. Web.

Hay: Hay production in the United States exceeds 119 million tons per year. Alfalfa is the primary hay crop grown in this country. U.S. hay is produced mainly for domestic consumption although there is a growing export market. Hay can be packaged in bales or made into cubes or pellets. Hay crops also produce seeds that can be used for planting or as specialized grains.

Wheat: Over 160,810 (2007 Census of Agriculture)farms in the United States produce wheat and wheat production exceeds 2.27 billion bushels a year. The U.S. produces about 10% of the world's wheat and supplies about 25% of the world's wheat export market. About two-thirds of total U.S. wheat production comes from the Great Plains (from Texas to Montana).

Wheat is classified by time of year planted, hardness, and color (e.g. Hard Red Winter (HRW)). The characteristics of each class of wheat affect milling and baking when used in food products. Of the wheat consumed in the United States, over 70% is used for food products, about 22% is used for animal feed and residuals, and the remainder is used for seed.

Cotton: Fewer than 18,605 (2007 Census of Agriculture) farms in the United States produce cotton (2007 Census of Agriculture). Cotton is grown from coast-to-coast, but in only 17 southern states, concentrated in California, Texas, and the Southeast. According to the National Cotton Council of America, farms in those states produce over 30% of the world's cotton with annual exports of more than $7 billion. The nation's cotton farmers harvest about 15 million bales or 7.3 billion pounds of cotton each year.

Cotton is used in a number of consumer and industrial products and is also a feed and food ingredient. Most of the crop (75 percent) goes into apparel, 18 percent into home furnishings and 7 percent into industrial products each year. Cottonseed and cottonseed meal are used in feed for livestock, dairy cattle, and poultry. Cottonseed oil is also used for food products such as margarine and salad dressing.

"World of Cotton." National Cotton Council. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

U.S. USDA. NASS. 2007 Census of Agriculture, Cotton Industry. Web. 27 Jan. 2010.

Grain sorghum: In the United States, 26,242 farms grow grain sorghum. Grain Sorghumis used primarily as an animal feed, but also is used in food products and as an industrial feedstock. Industrial products that utilize sorghum include wallboard and biodegradable packaging materials. Worldwide, over half of the sorghum grown is for human consumption.

Some farmers grow sorghum as a hedge against drought. This water-efficient crop is more drought tolerant and requires fewer inputs than corn. Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Missouri produce most of the grain sorghum grown in this country. The U.S. exports almost half of the sorghum it produces and controls 70% to 80% of world sorghum exports.

As much as one-third of domestic sorghum production goes to produce biofuels like ethanol and its various co-products. With demand for renewable fuel sources increasing, demand for co-products like sorghum-DDG (dry distillers grain) will increase as well due the sorghum's favorable nutrition profile.

"Biofuels." Sorghum Checkoff. N.p., Apr. 2012. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

U.S. USDA. ERS. Feed Grains: Yearbook Tables; Overview: Web. Accessed 10 Apr. 2013. <

Rice: Just over 6,084 (2007 Census of Agriculture)farms produce rice in the United States. Those farms are concentrated in four regions including the Arkansas Grand Prairie, the Mississippi Delta (parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana), the Gulf Coast (Texas and Southwest Louisiana), and the Sacramento Valley of California. There are three types of rice grain; long, medium, and short, and each growing region harvests the type of rice best suited for the land. U.S. rice production accounts for just under 2% of the world's total, but this country is the second leading rice exporter with  10% of the world market.

About 50 - 60% of the rice consumed in the U.S. is for direct food use; another 18% goes into processed foods, 10-12 percent goes into pet food, and most of the rest (about 10 percent) goes into beer production.

U.S. USDA. ERS. Rice: Trade. Web. Accessed 4 Apr. 2013.


GMO corn, soybeans dominate US market

Jun 04, 2013 by Veronique Dupont

The discovery of unauthorized genetically engineered wheat growing on a farm in the US state of Oregon has cast a spotlight on agricultural biotechnology and the debate about its safety.

The discovery of unauthorized genetically engineered wheat growing on a farm in the US state of Oregon has cast a spotlight on agricultural biotechnology and the debate about its safety.

While genetically engineered or
genetically modified (GM) wheat has not been approved for commercial planting, GM corn and GM soybeans already reign supreme on American farms.

By 2012, 88 percent of corn (maize) and 94 percent of soy grown in the United States were genetically modified, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

And with the US market now well saturated, seed firms are eying China and South America to spur growth and profits.

The main players are US firms Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical, as well as Germany's Bayer and Syngenta of Switzerland.

Since their introduction in the 1990s, GM products have conquered agriculture in the US and hold a large share of the food on Americans' plates.

Though most genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not directly involved in human consumption, "60-70 percent of processed foods have ingredients derived from GMOs," said Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety, an anti-GMO organization.

Besides corn and soybeans, GM crops grown in the US include cotton, sugar beets and rapeseed.

In addition, a genetically engineered growth hormone, recombinant bovine growth hormone, is widely injected in cows to boost milk production.

The US government vouches for the safety of GM products. The industry is regulated by the Department of Agriculture, for farm biotechnology, and the Food and Drug Administration, which governs food and food ingredients.

But the developers of the GM products are deeply involved in certifying their safety. The FDA, for instance, depends on a consultative process with developers who voluntarily present their plans to the agency before marketing the products.

Doubts are strong in Europe, where a number of countries, including France, have banned GM crops.

US farmers, though paying more to buy GM seeds, find them worthwhile. Corn and soybeans have been modified to improve resistance to weeds and insects, for example, to help farmers boost productivity.

"If by planting a GMO variety your yield increases faster than it would if you didn't, your future rewards are going to increase," said Bill Nelson, a soybean analyst at Doane Advisory Services.

And the structure of some government crop insurance programs favor that productivity, giving farmers even more incentive to plant GM seeds rather than traditional seeds.

For Freese, a science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, GM seeds' very dominance is promoting their use.

"It's become harder and harder for farmers to even find conventional seeds," Freese said.

"The big players bought up conventional seed companies," he said, "and the university public sector breeders which used to produce most of the seeds that farmers used have seen their funding reduced."

Freese noted that cross-pollination of conventional fields by GMO strains has become so widespread it is difficult to produce "pure" seeds that are not contaminated.

Some organic seed developers grow their seeds in South America because they cannot find sources to buy pure seeds in the US, he said.

Yet the seed giants are facing a growing opposition to GM products in the US, with some consumers calling for GM product labeling.

Ben & Jerry's, the activist ice-cream maker, said in April it would stop using GM-sourced ingredients, which make up 20 percent of its products by volume, by the end of the year.

Whole Foods Market, the upscale natural and organic supermarket chain, announced in March that all its products in its US and Canadian stores would be labeled if they contain genetically modified organisms by 2018.

Meanwhile, the outlook for the seed giants remains bright outside the US, especially in rapidly growing South America and China.

With China's expanding middle class and appetite for meat, the Asian powerhouse will need to import huge quantities of soybeans and corn for animal feed, Nelson said.

"That can't happen without the majority being GMO."

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