Tugging on an ear of (American) corn

by Caroline Brown

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

–John Muir, U.S. environmentalist, preservationist, author, & founder of the Sierra Club

Environmental News Network (ENN) has a great article about what happens when you tug on an ear of American corn. A scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has shown that U.S. corn subsidies lead to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. (Bear with me, I haven’t ranted about corn in a really, really long time. I promise to keep this short and not foamy.)

How is corn connected to deforestation? In a study published in Science magazine last month, William Laurence links corn to deforestation by way of soy:

The US is the world’s leading producer of soy, but many American soy farmers are shifting to corn to qualify for the government subsidies. Since 2006, US corn production rose 19% while soy farming fell by 15%.

The drop-off in US soy has helped to drive a major increase in global soy prices, which have nearly doubled in the last 14 months. In Brazil, the world’s second-largest soy producer, high soy prices are having a serious impact on the Amazon rainforest and tropical savannas.

“Amazon fires and forest destruction have spiked over the last several months, especially in the main soy-producing states in Brazil,” said Laurance. “Just about everyone there attributes this to rising soy and beef prices.”

Laurence says that higher global soy prices are lead to the clearing of rainforest areas for soy farms. Soy farmers are buying cattle ranches and turning them into soy farms, and the cattle ranchers are in turn pushing their ranches “further into the Amazonian frontier.” And finally, these farmers need better means of transportation to get their product to market, so they lobby their governments for new highways, which further encroaches on the Amazon rainforest.

Laurance emphasized that he was not the first person to suggest that US corn subsidies could indirectly harm the Amazon. “But now we’re seeing that these predictions-first made last summer-are being borne out. The evidence of a corn connection to the Amazon is circumstantial, but it’s about as close as you ever get to a smoking gun.”

As much as I’d like to rant about corn, others provide information in a much more positive way. Check out King Corn to learn more about the effect of corn production on American and global society and culture, including its impact on American health, obesity, and family and corporate farming.

Image courtesy of University of Maine Cooperative Extension

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3 Comments to “Tugging on an ear of (American) corn”

  1. Does anybody know about this site ( http://www.earthlab.com ) ? I have seen other environmental sites with carbon calculators like yahoo and tree huggers, but I am wondering what the deal with earthlab.com is? I saw they also published a list last month of the top ten greenest cities ( http://www.efficientenergy.org/Top-Ten-Green-Cities-in-the-United-States ). Does anyone know if this site is better than the others? Fill me in!

    I took their carbon foot print test and it was pretty interesting, they said that I put out 4.5 tons of carbon, does anyone know about any other tests?

  2. Thanks for the reminder that the ills of our corn production affect the entire planet. Depressing, but thank you!

  3. Reblogged this on Hungry for Fresh Local Organic Safe Sustainable and commented:
    King Corn once again has wrecked our farmlands with erosion, petrochemical byproducts, obese consumers of empty starches and syrups, and now government subsidies leading to deforestation of rainforests.

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