Food for Thought: Corn

Or, what does ethanol have to do with carpaccio?

Rising fuel prices have focused more attention on ethanol lately. Consumers have discovered the trade-off in power between a gallon of gasoline and a gallon of E85, which essentially balances the price difference. And then there’s the corrosion issues the futurists from the Corn Belt neglected to tell us about. Yet government mandates in the Energy Act of 2005 require that a certain portion of our automotive fuel supply be spiked with the stuff. Some experts warn that current production capacity can’t even supply these mandated quantities.

Miles of open ranch land in OklahomaImporting ethanol is not an option because of protectionist tariffs. So the net result has been an increase in commodity prices as the demand for corn increases. Biofuel makers bid against food suppliers and drive up the price. Food or fuel, the critics ask. But using corn as a fuel is not a new idea- we’ve been doing it for years with cows. And they don’t run on the stuff much better than our cars do.

Gas, Grass or ..
About a zillion years ago cows grazed in pastures and ate grass. Then came McDonald’s and everyone decided it was a good idea to eat hamburgers four times a day. This increased demand for beef required a factory approach to raising cattle. And grazing in picturesque pastures had nothing to do with it.

Ranchers found that feeding cattle a corn diet caused them to fatten up more quickly and gave the beef a marbled appearance. Since they aren’t built to eat corn they convert the sugars to fat, and it also gives them gas. Now if your child was eating a diet that had such an effect we would call him… well, an average American, but we’d also consider it unhealthy. And the same goes for the cows- it’s not good for them.

This factory farming approach requires huge amounts of antibiotics to fight disease- 70% of all the antibiotics our country consumes is used on cows. Fear of raw or undercooked meat has not been exaggerated. The incidence of foodborn disease, such as E.colli or Campylobacter, in feedlot beef is 300 times more likely than in pasture-fed beef. Add to this the practice of grinding up beef from hundreds of cows at one time for hamburger and it pretty much guarantees you a bacterium-laden burger.

Fuel for Thought
Ironically, it takes someone threatening our cars to wake up many Americans. If the price of gas continues to rise, and the use of ethanol remains fashionable, the food-or-fuel or fuel-for-food debate will rage on. Eventually the beef industry will weigh in with a Toby Keith song playing in the background. But maybe there’s another way.

Instead of raising corn to feed to cows, maybe we could raise corn and feed it to people? And maybe the cows could eat grass like they used to? Sure, we would see the end of 59 cent hamburgers. But imagine ordering a steak cooked “rare.” Imagine buying a pound of hamburger that came from one cow. Maybe even one day saying, “Pass the carpaccio, please.”

Ref: Wikipedia- Cattle Feeding

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