Corn Commentary

Multiple Marketing Personalities Confounding

Does anyone else besides me get the impression that pet food companies are sporting multiple marketing personalities these days? They run about willy-nilly on television and online espousing the benefits of grain free dog food. These commercials and marketing materials are constructed in such a way as to make you believe dog food that contains corn is bad for your pet.

However, leave your set on a little longer and you are likely to see a spot from the same company pushing their traditional pet foods containing the good old golden grain….cohuskyrn. Likewise if you land on one web site you quickly get the impression corn is making spot throw up or Scooby Doo go, well, Scooby doo. Nearby on another piece of digital real estate the same company tells you corn provides protein, energy, and linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid for dogs. Ounce for ounce, corn has twice the level of antioxidants as an apple.

Thankfully, one of the oldest and most respected pet food companies, Purina, has publically stated that corn contributes to a balanced canine diet. “You want to give your dog a food that supports health and enrichment. A balanced diet will keep your dog healthy and improve his life. That’s why we include corn in many of our dog foods.”

But Purina doesn’t get a pass on this issue as they exhibit some of the same dissociative disorder seen in many companies marketing human and pet foods today. They are marketing an entire line of dry and wet, grain free dog food products despite the acknowledgement that a miniscule number of dogs have any physical abnormalities that would require such a product.

Which begs the question….Hey, Sybil, why are you spending so much money marketing a product that is more expensive and that Fido doesn’t really need? You don’t need a psychiatrist to figure this one out. In an increasingly competitive market, producers of human and dog food are willing to market to an uninformed minority in the name of market share. At least when their paws are held to the fire, Purina confirms, “Our careful research has indicated to us that corn is not only acceptable in a dog’s diet, but benefits their health. 99-percent of dogs are not allergic to grains and thrive on a diet that includes them.

Good Dog!

Refinery Shutdown Like a E15 Advertisement

If you live in the heart of the Midwest soaring fuel prices are a reality, not a nightmare, figment of your imagination or Wile E. Coyote cartoon. An equipment failure at one the region’s largest oil refineries caused an immediate and painful spike at the gas pump for consumers across the Midwest this week. The BP Whiting Refinery located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, had a breakdown of its crude distillation unit. The device, not made by ACME apparently,  is critical to the output of 120,000 barrels of gasoline a day. Whiting is the sixth-largest refinery in the United States and is a pivotal supplier of gasolineacme for drivers in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Missouri.

“Gasoline prices are already on their way up and are expected to go up more than $1 a gallon in these markets,” according to NCGA President Chip Bowling. “Everyone is talking about these crazy gas prices right now so I am encouraging folks to use this as a teaching opportunity. This is a great way to drive home to family, friends and others how tenuous our relationship is with petroleum. We rely too much on imported oil and on a small number of aging oil refineries.”

A 250,000 barrel-per-day crude distillation unit went down with a mechanical problem at the facility, knocking out half the plants productive capacity for an undisclosed time.

“All of the lost gasoline output resulting from this outage could be offset if all gasoline in the Midwest region immediately transitioned from E10 to E15,” said Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “Moreover, ethanol in the Chicago wholesale market is roughly $1 per gallon lower than gasoline today. That means if refiners and blenders serving the Midwest market immediately switched to producing E15 to blunt the impacts of this refinery outage, gas prices would instantly fall by at least 5 cents per gallon and drivers in the Midwest would save about $6 million per day,” he said.

RFA is calling on EPA to immediately waive RVP requirements for E15 and also allow E12 blending–based on the fact that it is substantially similar to E10–in the Midwest region to facilitate expanded ethanol blending and blunt the consumer impacts of this refinery outage.

“I hope the Environmental Protection Agency is paying attention. If cleaner air alone is not enough to get them to leave the current Renewable Fuels Standard alone, then maybe this incident at Whiting will convince them,” Bowling said. “Incidents like these are not unusual and are getting more common as refineries continue to age and oil companies show no stomach for building new facilities. Agriculture has the corn and the desire to boost production.”

 

 

 

 

 

Corn’s Big Change: Why Mutants are Good

By Tom Mueller

EXTRA, EXTRA, read all about it! Plant scientists identify the gene mutation that turned grass into corn!

Not exactly the headline heard or seen on any news outlet this week. So, what’s the big deal?

Teosinte. Image via UW-Madison, from cited story in Washington Post.

Washington Post journalist Robert Gebelhoff captured the significance in a recent Speaking of Science column. In the article, University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher and study author John Doebley compared the impact of teosinte’s mutation from grass to corn to that of humans evolving from four-legged creatures to upright bipeds.

This research documented how a simple nucleotide change can alter protein function. Until now, there was disagreement among scientists on whether a single change in the DNA could make such a difference. Armed with DNA diversity data (i.e. a measure of genetic variation), researchers identified the location within the corn genome where the covered kernels of teosinte became the naked kernels of the corn plant. When teosinte’s tough protective kernel husk vanished, the diversity of the plant was unleased and this mother-load of calorie dense food took form.

Genetic mutation is a natural and frequent occurrence. Most mutations are neutral and innocuous. However, when a significant mutation takes place, we experience a game changer.

Corn’s mutative evolution has been big, but just how big was it? In Tamar Haspel’s Washington Post article In defense of corn, one expert noted that corn has adapted to almost every climate that humans have, and that it is three times as productive as 95 percent of the world’s flowing plants. That mutant really packed a punch.

By all accounts, corn has a few more benefits up its genetic sleeve. As it turns out, the gene identified in the University of Wisconsin-Madison study also affects the shape of corn kernels. The size and shape of corn seed does have an impact on emergence and early growth when environmental stresses such as early planting, cool soil temperatures and soil crusting are present.

So, embrace the mutants.

About the author: Tom Mueller, chairman of NCGA’s Research and Business Development Action Team, farms in Illinois.

Paltrow’s Pretentious Propaganda Heads to the Hill

 

Gwyneth Paltrow has faced her fair share of criticism for her food theories. From failing the Food Stamp Challenge 2015 to promoting incredibly pricey diets on Goop, she has clearly shown, time and again, that her point of view does not take into account the financial realities faced by average American families. Her status as Hollywood royalty creates an insular bubble which not only allows her to ignore the plight of the people who shell out hard earned money to see her movies but it also allows her to continue promoting her Patrician food politics on a national stage.

Today, she will join her equally aristocratic ancestor Blythe Danner to petition our legislators in Washington to stand on her side, one consciously uncoupled from reality, in opposing the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. This legislation, which would create a national, science-based standard for the labeling of foods created with the use of biotechnology, plays an important role in keeping food affordable for American families.

Unlike Paltrow, look at the reality facing all of us today. Should the 50-state patchwork of labeling legislation which would most probably come to fruition without Congressional action go into effect, starting with Vermont next July, the average American family would see their grocery bill go up by $500 per year. They would gain a sticker, one based on marketing misinformation in many cases, without improving the quality of food or information they receive for their grocery dollars one iota.

Paltrow poses as a lifestyle guru, laboring under the delusion every one of us should aspire to her holier-than-thou views of food. It is hypocrisy. She eschews science, promotes profit-driven propaganda and advocates for a position which harms the very people who pay for her ludicrous lifestyle.

Don’t fall for it.

Our representatives in Washington should represent us. While most of us do not have the time to fly to DC or a staff to splash our views across the headlines, we do have a voice. There are more of us than her. In a democracy where every one of us is entitled to an equal vote, we can stand up for ourselves, creating a system where science and economics actually matter.

Contact your elected officials today. Let them know the real impact failing to support this key legislation would have on the people who actually matter, their constituents. It is easy to do. Start by clicking here.

A Recipe for Relationships

This week, CommonGround Maryland volunteers took to the airwaves in our nation’s capital to discuss upcoming events where people who have questions about food can have real conversations with the women who grow and raise it. Sharing an incredible recipe for roasted sweet corn and blue crab gazpacho, Paula Linthicum and Jennifer Cross reached out to the audience of ABC News Channel 8 to help residents of Washington DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia understand that they can enjoy food without the fear.

To view the clip, click here.

This Friday, Common Ground will host a crab feast at NCGA President Chip Bowling’s farm in Newburg, Maryland to begin that same conversation with DC media and Congressional staff. Working together, the volunteers who make up this grassroots movement are gaining momentum in their effort to get Washington buzzing about the real story behind American farming – one they live every day.

Check back next week to find out more or go to Common Ground to learn more!

 

Huffington Post Goes Green in Support of Ethanol over Oil

Big Oil concocted the blend wall myth to protect its own profits, at least according to an article run today in the Huffington Post. Carefully delineating the events which led to the EPA’s reduction in required volume obligations announced in May, author Paul Alexander questions,” will the myth of a blend wall destroy the RFS, on which a good portion of the renewable fuel business is built, or will hard facts prevail?”

The piece, a departure from the anti-corn ethanol rhetoric often seen in national media, thoughtfully explores the connections behind the policy shift. From an Obama administration official reported by Reuters to have met with anti-RFS lobbying groups during his White House tenure to carefully detailing Department of Energy statement which affirm the viability of higher ethanol blends, Alexander crafts a solid argument that the blend wall arose from pro-oil propagandists.

Logically, he draws the seemingly obvious conclusion. Backing away from the RFS does equate to running toward a fossil fuel future. For an administration touting its environmental street cred, the move seems illogical at best.

Take a moment to read the article in full by clicking here.

From rallies in the Heartland to a flood of messages sent to the Hill, ethanol’s proponents must make their voice heard. Today, Alexander proved to be a prominent ally in this critical struggle to grow a cleaner, greener future for Americans by pointing out the current path only adds to the green in the pockets of Big Oil.

Love It or Hate It- NPR Has Mixed Emotions on Ethanol

NPR needs an all-hands-on-deck meeting. Recently, the reporters covering ethanol seem to be operating under almost opposing sets of assumptions. Sometimes, they hit it out of the park. Defying anti-ethanol propaganda disguised as conventional wisdom, they cut through the crud and achieve the accuracy journalists value above all.

But, sometimes, they fall victim to the trap laid by anti-ethanol activists who have worked for years to ingrain their false facts so deeply that they achieve an aura of un-questionability.

In this story from June 10, NPR reporter Grant Gerlock tackles why U.S. farmers and the EPA disagree vocally on changes made to the Renewable Volume Obligations outlined in the Renewable Fuel Standard. Gerlock speaks with a variety of guests, from the Union of Concerned Scientist’s Jeremy Martin to Iowa State University’s Bruce Babcock, an agricultural economist. While this may appear to be a good faith effort to present a well-rounded view of the situation, Gerlock’s unquestioning acceptance of anti-ethanol rhetoric quickly becomes apparent.

Speaking with USDA researcher Rob Mitchell, a proponent of switchgrass as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol, Gerlock makes a mental leap based upon the assumption that some ethanol is good and some is bad. He just assumes that corn-based ethanol could not possibly lower greenhouse gas emissions – even in comparison with oil. While both products do so, it does a grave disservice to suggest that the one more widely available today does not offer this important benefit.

To read the transcript (and see the incredible leap of misinformed faith for yourself), click here.

Yet, in a piece by Michael Tomsic that host Audie Cornish highlighted, NPR accepts NASCAR’s assertion that corn-based ethanol blends have been key to their efforts to make the sport “more green.” Discussing the move to ethanol, Tomsic sites that switching to a 15 percent ethanol blend has “reduced emissions by 20 percent” for NASCAR.

To read the transcript, click here.

Notably, he not only touts the virtue of using E15, he also points out that legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. no longer has concerns about how his car will perform on the fuel after having a chance to use it.

Yes, NPR showed in the first instance that it can fall prey but, in the second, it showed that others within the organization can find the positive, honest story America’s farmers have to tell about ethanol- the story which they have raced feverishly to share.

Want to say kudos highlighting NASCAR Green? Want to set the record straight on corn-based ethanol’s environmental advantage? Either choice, there is a way.

NPR offers listeners the opportunity to submit their comments to the Office of the Ombudsman. Unlike traditional comment sections, the letters submitted are considered carefully. Each week, some are even chosen to be read aloud on the air.

So no matter what you want to say, speak up! They have the story half-right. Your voice can make a difference.

To contact the NPR ombudsman, click here.

Who Said Conventional Production Is Sustainable?

When you look at the facts, conventional agriculture scores higher than organic on sustainability. What system generates these results? The new Responsibly Grown labeling system developed by Whole Foods.

According to a multitude of media reports, the system will rank produce on a variety of criteria including water use, pesticide use and sustainability. Then, the data will be used to award produce selections with a label of “good,” “better” or “best.”

For one example, from Fox News, click here.

From early reports, conventional farmers have placed much higher than the growers using organic methods.

The system reflects a shift in the industry as a whole. While organics may have grown in popularity, many advocate a more scientific approach to assessing the impact of food production. Whole Foods spent three full years developing the Responsibly Grown program. Instead of simply applying a label to market the produce, they provide information on the true impact of growing practices.

Farmers, whether conventional or organic, strive to care for their land. It has provided a livelihood for their family for many generations in most cases. In about as many, they hope it will continue to do so for many generations to come. Keeping it healthy only makes sense.

Conventional production can be more sustainable than organic. Soon, the proof will be clearly labeled at a Whole Foods near you.

Monday’s Maize Mutant: HM1

Photo courtesy of Dr. Gerald Neuffer

Photo courtesy of Dr. Gerald Neuffer

Cochliobolus carbonum is a fungus that causes northern leaf spot and ear rot disease in corn. The fungus produces a toxin that is highly destructive to corn ears and leaves. The HM1 gene in corn is responsible for resistance or susceptibility to the fungal plant pathogen. Corn lines that are resistant to C. carbonum and its toxin can become susceptible if their HM1 gene is mutated.  This seemingly unfortunate event has allowed maize researchers to clone and characterize the HM1 gene, which led to a better understanding of how fungal toxins work and how plants defend themselves against pathogens. Mutant analysis is one of the most powerful tools researchers have for understanding how genes work and how their expression controls different pathways and how plants respond to the environment.

Why the RFS is Important to Corn Farmers

iowa-corn-reckerDespite the challenges that come every year with farming, Iowa corn grower Mark Recker sees his future and the future of his children in the industry, in part because of what the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has meant for rural communities like his in Fayette County.

“The RFS is the one shining star that has brought opportunities back to this state,” said Recker during a conference call for America’s Renewable Future (ARF) this week. “It’s not just important that I and my farm do well, but my entire community succeeds and that’s what ethanol and the RFS has done for us.”

ARF-LogoThe Iowa Corn Growers Association was one of the founders of America’s Renewable Future, a coalition formed earlier this year committed to educating presidential candidates in both parties about the RFS. “We’re involved because over a third of our corn crop goes directly into the ethanol industry,” said ICGA CEO Craig Floss, who has seen the ethanol industry grow from almost nothing in 1997 to what it is today. “It’s been a tremendous success story to say the least.”

Floss says because the new EPA’s proposed volume requirements for biofuels under the RFS are lower than the statute intended, it would mean less consumer choice at the pump and limit innovation for both first and second generation ethanol plants. “Less gallons being blended, less choice,” said Floss.

Listen to comments from Mark and Craig here: What RFS means to corn growers



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