Corn Commentary

Dropping HFCS Doesn’t (Necessarily) Drop Dress Sizes

In 2012, Americans consumed less high fructose corn syrup per person than they have since 1997. Dieters, who have become increasingly conscious of calories in HFCS sweetened beverages such as soda, have dropped their HFCS consumption but not the extra weight.

Levels of obesity continue to grow despite waning HFCS consumption? How could this be when pseudoscientists such as the great Oz have prattled on endless about the evils of corn sugar?

This week, public health and nutrition expert Marion Nestle gave a simple, concise explanation. Noting that the attention paid to obesity has had a negative impact on HFCS consumption, she pointed out dieters need to reduce their overall sweetener consumption to see a real impact.

“A lot of attention has been paid to obesity, and that’s hurt high-fructose corn syrup,” said Nestle. “Now, if only people weren’t making up for it by eating more sugar.”

In short, the truth about sweeteners is quite simple. Sugar is sugar whether it is from corn, cane or beat.

This academic, fact-based approach to nutrition does not offer dieters the same sweet solution that demonizing a single food does, it does offer results. Thoughtful, deliberate moderation does work, whether one needs to drop another pants size or drop the fad diet fluff.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Next Year’s Crop)

BabyCornCorn farmers might be wise to take a cue from a certain sector of their counterparts in traditional business sectors and learn the value of expectations management.

In 2012, farmers felt the brunt of their own success as, after years of continually pushing the boundaries of how much they could grow using fewer resources, a massive drought hit the Corn Belt hard. Fields of young corn plants, the beginning of what many anticipated to be a record corn crop, withered in the relentlessly dry heat. Corn production powerhouses, including Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, found their crop would not meet initial projections.

For their inability to (literally) make it rain, these farmers faced massive cries from media outlets’ sensationalized stories. Ever vigilant in their quest for higher ratings, many journalists eschewed responsible research in favor of “commonsense” commentary, crying over and over that consumers would be shocked when they saw their grocery bills come fall.

From their self-claimed moral high ground, media mercenaries lobbed a frenzied attack. Will Americans starve to feed their cars? Should draconian rationing measures be instituted? Were the Mayans right?

With the USDA’s annual crop reports released, a clearer picture of the 2012 crop is forming. Corn farmers, who faced a serious adversary in Mother Nature, managed to grow 10.8 billion bushels of corn. No, the crop did not break all previous records, but it made the top ten lists.

Despite the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, farmers raised the eighth-largest corn crop since the United States started keeping records. Through better seed varieties, developed through biotechnology, improved practices and cutting-edge technology, our nation’s corn farmers fought back against Mother Nature’s assault.

They struck major blows at key times. Iowa took the front despite the drought, growing 1.87 billion bushels of corn. Minnesota and Nebraska stepped up production and buttressed the crop, growing 1.37 and 1.29 billion bushels respectively. Even Illinois, who saw their normally chart topping yields shrivel in the sun, made a major contribution to the nation’s overall totals, producing 1.28 billion bushels.

The lesson therein? Corn farmers fell victim to their own success in 2012. While striving to produce even more bounty year after year, their achievements became commonplace. Thus, when these over-achievers faced a natural disaster, their efforts were met with backlash instead of understanding support. When their fields suffer, farmers suffer. Yet, this fact was largely ignored.

The eighth-largest corn crop on record does not generate the sort of excitement that a record-breaking harvest may have. It does show the strength and reliability of U.S. farmers. Even in the face of a drought that would have decimated the crop only decades ago, they succeeded in providing a top ten crop. Expectations placed upon America’s farmers have obfuscated the triumphs of 2012.

Sadly, it is a story that deserves telling. Though neither glamorous nor sensational, U.S. corn farmers can provide a dependable abundance that Americans can count on for food, feed, fuel and fiber. Maybe this does not make a headline, but it does provide for a secure tomorrow. That’s an expectation farmers are proud to meet.

Find Kentucky Farmers at a Grocery Store Near You

Today, Corn Commentary shares a post from Kentucky Corn Growers Association Director of Communications Jennifer Elwell. On her new blog Kentucky Food and Farm Files, Elwell discusses a variety of interesting topics, including her work with the CommonGround Kentucky program.

What happens when you place a passionate, smiling farmer in the middle of a grocery store? It opens a door for conversations about food and farming. Many Kentucky farmers are now volunteering their time to talk with food buyers about what the heck is going on at their farms and within their food industry.

Programs such as CommonGround, Operation Main Street, AgChat (#agchat or #foodchat) and many others are providing volunteer farmers for speaking engagements and events, and the feedback has been very positive.

This past weekend, volunteers (including myself) set up at the newest Kroger location in Georgetown, Ky. to talk with shoppers and provide recipes and farm information. We had questions about different types of egg production, a conversation about how a diabetic needs to manage their diet, my nine-year-old daughter encouraged kids to eat lots of fruits and vegetables by trying new dishes, and many just wanted to share their appreciation for what farmers do.

Volunteer Becky Thomas of Elizabethtown talks with a shopper at the Georgetown Kroger.

My daughter and I ready with smiles on our faces. She was so good at sharing the good news about what our Kentucky farmers do and is ready to take on my other blog, Food, Mommy!

I am very thankful that grocery store chains are opening their doors to local farmers to talk with their customers. It puts a face on our food production and puts the notion away that most of our food is produced by “industrial-strength” farms. At least 98% of the farms in Kentucky are still family-owned and operated.

Volunteer Tonya Murphy from Owensboro talks with a customer at a Louisville Kroger this summer about how she cares for the chickens on her farm. Everyone loved seeing her photos.

Volunteer Carly Guinn, a grain and beef cattle farmer who lives in Danville has a long conversation about food myths and shares how she feels they hurt farmers.

Kentucky farmer volunteers Ashley Reding, Carrie Divine and Denise Jones talked with Louisville ValuMarket shoppers in 2011, shortly after the Common Ground program launched nationwide.

Elwell invites both comments and requests from groups looking for speakers on food and farming. Click here to find out more.

OMG GMO!

One of the positive outcomes of the 2012 election was that Californians actually voted against Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of foods containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). However, those opposed to GMOs continue to attack the technology that increases safe, affordable and abundant food by stepping up their scare tactics.

GMOinside, for example, is urging people to “Celebrate a Non-GMO Thanksgiving!” Check this out:

Thanksgiving is a time for celebrating around the dinner table with family and friends. But, is there an unwanted guest at your table? You may not realize that many common Thanksgiving foods contain genetically engineered ingredients!

The website proceeds to provide a chart to help people “identify the GMOs in popular holiday foods” and urging them to “keep a look out for foods from companies that opposed Prop 37, such as Campbell’s, Coke, General Mills, Kraft, Nestle, Pepsi, Hershey, Unilever.” Oddly enough, turkey is not mentioned on the list, despite the fact that the majority of commercial turkey production uses corn for feed – and most feed corn is genetically-modified.

What really bugs me about the non-GMO movement is that the people who are most against modifying crops to prevent disease or tolerate drought are very much in favor of attempts to genetically-modify humans to prevent or eliminate diseases or increase life spans. What’s wrong with that picture?

One of the main reasons that Thanksgiving is celebrated during this time of the year is to give thanks for the blessings of the harvest. Instead of demonizing GMOs, we should be giving thanks for the scientific breakthroughs that continue to allow us to produce more bountiful harvests every year.

Thankful for Affordable Turkey Dinner

It will cost about the same to gobble up your Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner this year as it did last year, according to the annual survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

“Our meal for 10 people that includes a 16-pound turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, relish tray, pumpkin pie… the whole nine yards… this year we think is going to cost us $49.48. And that’s only about 28 cents more than we were last year,” explained AFBF economist Bob Young during an interview at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention. That translates to less than a 1-percent price increase… not too bad when you consider how some commodity prices spiked due to the drought. In fact, Young pointed out that about the only thing that went up in the Thanksgiving basket was the price of the turkey, increasing just 4 cents a pound. “Given what feed costs did this year, that’s a pretty amazing thing,” he said.

Some prices are lower than a year ago. “A lot of the dairy products, the butter, the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie, went down,” said Young. “A lot of the bread products, surprisingly enough, went down – the cubed stuffing mix for example, the rolls went down.” And the price of a vegetable tray was exactly the same.

Farm Bureau has been reporting the price for an average Thanksgiving meal since 1986, when it cost $28.74. “You know, if you went back and bought a car in 1986, somehow I don’t think it would be quite the same kind of deal that we’re talking about for this dinner,” Young said.

In fact, comparing the increase in price between a new car and Thanksgiving dinner – yikes! The average price for a new car in 1986 was $9255 – this year it was $30,274 – an increase of a whopping 227%! The percentage increase for your turkey dinner this year compared to 1986 is just 42%. A great reason to be thankful for our food and our farmers this Thanksgiving!

Listen to my interview with Bob Young on the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving meal: Bob Young, AFBF economist

Kentucky Shoppers Taking CommonGround Farmers Home

CommonGround Kentucky will be reaching out to start a conversation between the moms who grow food and the moms who buy it all next year through a series of articles in Today’s Family magazine. A free publication offered throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana, the magazine looks at the topics facing families today.

With so much confusion surrounding food and farming, Today’s Family readers, like families across the country, are looking for real resources to help them address their concerns. CommonGround Kentucky volunteers highlighted in the series want to share their knowledge and experiences with their neighbors off of the farm so that no one has to fear their food.

Take a moment to check out the article on CommonGround Kentucky volunteer Amanda Gajdzik featured in the current issue. A farmer who, along with her husband, grows apples, peaches, corn and soybeans in addition to raising beef cattle, Gajdzik speaks from personal experiences when addressing issues such as why food prices sometimes rise and how she cares for her cattle.

Food Dialoguing in the Big Apple

The USFRA Food Dialogues hit the Big Apple last week with three sessions of panelists on a variety of pretty hot topics related to food and agriculture: Media, Marketing and Healthy Choices; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Antibiotics in Your Food; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Biotechnology (GMOs) in Your Food.

Among the panelists on the GMO session was Greg Jaffe, director of biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “There’s a lot of misinformation about this technology, about these products and that was clear from questions from the audience,” said Jaffe. “This kind of discussion is a good first step.”

Jaffe said this is a topic that brings out a lot of emotion. “I wish that wasn’t the case,” he said. “But I think for now it is going to continue to remain controversial.”

You can listen to an interview with Jaffe here: Interview with Greg Jaffe

The moderator for the New York Food Dialogues was Ali Velshi, CNN chief business correspondent, which he says includes the food industry.

Ali thought the event today was remarkable. “This is an area of which I have cursory understanding of,” he said. “I understand commodities and I understand economic impacts of droughts and storms, but I don’t have this degree of detail and granularity that we got today.”

He said it was great to get that and hear from the farmers who are really connected to the food and he was intrigued to hear all the differences of opinion on the controversial topics covered in the sessions. “People have very strong beliefs when it comes to food and that’s understandable,” he said.

You can listen to an interview with Velshi here: Interview with Ali Velshi

2012 USFRA Annual Mtg. & Food Dialogues Photo Album

Support for California GMO-labeling Proposition Plummets

As the election draws closer, more and more California voters oppose Proposition 37, commonly referred to as the GMO-labeling law. A sharp decline in support, 19 percent in two weeks, shows that Californians understand the regulation increases opportunities for frivolous lawsuits and redefines simple terms like “natural” in a confusing way without actually providing useful information that benefits consumers.

In a bi-monthly opinion poll released last week, 48 percent of the likely voters contacted indicated support for California’s Proposition 37, a 19 percent drop from only two weeks prior. Notably, this was the single largest shift in opinion on the 11 ballot initiatives covered in the report, which was released by the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and the California Business Roundtable.

Why the change?

First, 33 daily newspapers have come out in opposition of the ballot initiative. Due to the nature of print journalism, these news sources have been able to detail the reasons to oppose the measure and dig deeper into the implications of the regulation. Armed with the facts, Californians have gained an appreciation for what the measure would actually do and grasped that the real world effect would not be what proponents promise.

Second, Californians are getting the message straight from the farmer’ mouth. Groups opposing the measure, including the National Corn Growers Association, have taken their message to the airwaves through a series of television commercials. With one spot highlighting what the conversation would be if they “Ask a Farmer,” voters have a chance to hear why this “GMO-labeling law” would increase the cost to farm and would hit consumer pocketbooks at the grocery store checkout.

Consumers and voters should be able to base their decisions on the facts. Increasingly, Californians are looking at Proposition 37 and seeing past the propaganda. In staggering numbers, they are deciding to oppose the costly, confusing measure that would help agenda-driven interest groups and hurt both the people who grow food and those who buy it.

Californians want the information necessary to make solid decisions. They want to analyze the facts for themselves. In doing so, they are standing up for themselves and family farmers across the country. They are standing against Proposition 37.

The Skinny on Sugar

The percentage of Americans considered obese has skyrocketed over the past few decades. With 13 states on track to exceed a 60 percent obesity rate among adults by 2030, heated discussions about why our country continues to grow girthier and how to deal with the associated health risks grab headlines even during an election year.

Dietary scapegoats abound with each fad claiming to offer a simple answer to this complex problem. From avoiding carbs to deprivation detoxes, it seems a new magic bullet to slay the gluttonous giant pierces the collective consciousness every few months.

Quietly toiling in the background, scientists studying obesity offer consistent data on the factors making us fat. This week, a study released in The Journal of Obesity again confirmed what many have known all along – high fructose corn syrup is not behind our growing behinds.

Reaffirming that HFCS is nutritionally the same as sugar and, thus, processed by the human body in the same fashion, the report indicates that, while consuming any added sweetener to excess can cause weight gain, the consumption of HFCS does not contribute to obesity to a greater degree than other sugars.

Scientists have weighed in on the issue time and time again. Sugar is sugar whether it comes from corn, cane or beet. So beat the media-hype over the head with a healthy dose of data. Enjoy favorite foods fearlessly, just do it in moderation.

The Company Proposition 37 Keeps

Voters, confronted by an onslaught of political advertising this year, might not have the time or energy to carefully peruse every issue confronting them on the ballot. With a myriad of possible implications and unspecified consequences, each issue presents challenges for even the politically-minded citizen.

In the battle to make a choice that reflects their actual intention, many voters, quite wisely, follow the money trail back to the groups supporting the measure. Basically, the company an issue keeps often tells quite a story about the intricate workings of that particular legislation.

In California, Proposition 37 has made some less-than-reputable friends. Backed by trial lawyers, this ballot initiative would provide fertile soil for nuisance lawsuits that would further clog an overloaded court system. Skilled at the art of persuasion and expert in the drafting of fine print, the lawyers behind Proposition 37 cloaked a piece of regulation pregnant with potential lawsuits in a veil of fiery rhetoric promoting consumer choice.

In reality, the lawyers’ pocketbooks would get fatter if the proposition passes. America’s consumers would pay for the dubious labeling scheme with true costs of this law reflected in every grocery checkout lane, contributing to massive settlements the lawyers anticipate with every food purchase they make.

Take a long, critical look at the facts. Trial lawyers, not generally a group known for their charitable nature, have no vested interest in backing Proposition 37 unless it stands to provide another avenue in which to practice their craft. In the end, consumers stand to pay repeatedly should they give the labeling-law that they have crafted the benefit of the doubt.

So, watch the company Proposition 37 keeps. It may look like the good-hearted girl-next-door, but it runs around with a notoriously disreputable crew.



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