Corn Commentary

Sweet News about Your Valentine’s Day Sweets

Today, Corn Commentary offers a guest post from blogger Sara Ross, a CommonGround Iowa volunteer. Ross, along with 85 volunteers in 15 states, is participating in a movement that looks to open a conversation between the women who grow food and those why purchase it.

CommonGround was formed by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates to provide our nation’s female farmers with opportunities to connect with their urban and suburban counterparts on an issue important to all of them – the food they feed their families.

Corn HeartIt’s Valentine’s Day.  It’s a day of love, flowers, presents, candy and high fructose corn syrup….

Wait….what???

Yes, high fructose corn syrup will be present on Valentine’s Day in many of your candies and soft drinks.  Not to worry though!  In this post I’m going to clear up some common myths and misconceptions about this hot topic. Misconception 1:  High fructose corn syrup is bad for you.
Answer:  High fructose corn syrup has almost the same composition as table sugar, honey and fruit juices like grape and apple.  “When high fructose corn syrup and sugar are absorbed into our bloodstream, the two are indistinguishable by the body,” Joan Salge Blake, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.  Sugar is sugar and all of it should be consumed in moderation.

Misconception 2:  High fructose corn syrup is not natural.
Answer:  This is not true.  HFCS is made from corn, a naturally occurring food.  It contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives.  It also meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for use of the term “natural.”

Misconception 3:  High fructose corn syrup is causing wide-spread obesity in the United States.
Answer:  In 2008 the American Medical Association (AMA) concluded that HFCS does not appear to contribute more to obesity than any other caloric sweeteners.  “At this time there is insufficient evidence to restrict the use of high fructose syrup or label products that contain it with a warning,” said AMA Board Member William Dolan, MD. “We do recommend consumers limit the amount of all added caloric sweeteners to no more than 32 grams of sugar daily based on a 2,000 calorie diet in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

“The real issue is not high fructose corn syrup. It’s that we’ve forgotten what a real serving size is. We have to eat less of everything,”stated David Klurfeld, Ph.D, from the Agricultural Research Service at the USDA.

Misconception 4:  High fructose corn syrup is used only as a sweetener in food and beverages.
Answer:  HFCS is a popular ingredient for many manufacturers.  Here are some of the ways it is used:

  • As a liquid, it is easily incorporated into beverages and also stays in solution better— making a higher quality product.
  • As a form of invert sugar, fructose combines with protein in the presence of heat to give browning—toasted bread is an example. Because it has a higher amount of fructose, HFCS provides better browning in baked products.
  • Using HFCS instead of granular sugar helps lock in moisture in baked products. This extends shelf life by keeping the baked product fresher for a longer time period. This same moistness also gives cookies and snack bars a softer texture.
  • Because it is a syrup (rather than granules), the fructose and glucose molecules do not form undesired crystals in candies and ice cream—giving those foods a smoother mouth feel and a more desirable product.
  • HFCS contributes thickness, or viscosity, to condiments and salad dressings.

When doing some research on candy companies and what their stances are about HFCS, I found thatThe Hershey Company says this, “The Hershey Company uses a variety of sweeteners to deliver products with well-known tastes and textures while maintaining our high quality standards. Different types of sweeteners are better suited for different types of products. High fructose corn syrup, although used sparingly, provides better functional properties in selected products.”

When I looked to Pepsi Co to see what their stance is on HFCS I found that they say, “HFCS and table sugar have the same calories and sweetness so the decision to use one or the other is based on a variety of other factors. For example, HFCS is an easier ingredient to work with because it is a liquid. It also costs less than table sugar which helps us keep the cost of our products down for consumers. However, since some consumers prefer beverages sweetened with table sugar, we give people choices in the different products we make.”

With all this information about HFCS, just remember that sugar is sugar and while eating candy on Valentine’s Day, moderation is the key!

This post originally ran on the blog Sara’s House HD.

To learn more about the CommonGround program or connect with it through social media, click here.

What’s in My Beef?!?!

Today, Corn Commentary offers a guest post from blogger Lana Hoffschneider, a CommonGround Nebraska volunteer. Hoffschneider, along with 85 volunteers in 15 states, is participating in a movement that looks to open a conversation between the women who grow food and those why purchase it.

CommonGround was formed by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates to provide our nation’s female farmers with opportunities to connect with their urban and suburban counterparts on an issue important to all of them – the food they feed their families.

lana-kidsAnyone else feel overwhelmed by the quantity of information out there about food and food safety? I’ve recently been on a quest to increase my knowledge about food safety, and feel like now I can’t eat anything!! I swear there’s a study out there to prove anything. So how do we sort out the information… the studies, the food labels, the facebook posts, the news stories, what our friends tell us, etc?!?! I can’t promise I have the answer to that… but I’ll give you my take on it! Read on…

Since we have a feedyard, I’m going to direct my comments to beef, and hopefully answer some of your questions about what you’re eating. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a scientist, and I’m not a meat processor, but I can tell you what happens at our feedyard.

One common concern about beef is hormones. Yes, we give our cattle implants (they go under the skin on the outside of the ear). The main active ingredient is estrogen. The implants are given to increase feed efficiency and rate of gain. From the information I have read, yes – some of the hormone passes into the meat, but no – it’s not at high levels. in fact, check this out:

  • 4 oz. beef from steer given hormones: 1.6 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. beef from untreated steer: 1.2 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. beef from non-pregnant heifer: 1.5 nanograms of estrogen
  • 4 oz. raw cabbage: 2700 ng estrogen
  • 4 oz. raw peas: 454 ng estrogen
  • Average level in a woman of childbearing age: 480,000 nanograms/day of estrogen
  • Average level in a pre-pubertal girl: 54,000 nanograms/day of estrogen

So – I’m not worried about that. Period.

Next, how about shots… vaccinations, antibiotics, etc?

Our veterinarian giving vaccinations to a steer.

Our veterinarian giving vaccinations to a steer.

First of all, I think you might like to know that all shots go in the neck region of the animal.  This prevents any needle damage in the meat.

Second, you need to know that there are specific “withdrawal times” that antibiotics have – which means an animal cannot be harvested until after a specified number of days of receiving the antibiotic.   And yes – our cattle receive antibiotics (administered by a veterinarian).  It’s the right thing to do – we take care of our animals when they’re sick! Here’s a great blog post about this… Antibiotics in beef farming.

So I’m not worried about that. Period.

The last thing I want to hit on is regarding the talk about meat causing heart disease, cancer, and whatever else.  I understand that doctors give special instructions on diet for particular situations – listen to them.   If that’s not you – then here’s what I think.   MODERATION – everything in moderation.

We eat beef from cattle from our feedyard.  I feed it to my family.  We have 2 daughters – yes, I think about hormones and early puberty and the thought freaks me out on a lot of levels.  But I don’t change the meat we eat or the milk we drink because of it – I don’t think that’s what causes early puberty.

If you’re like me, and feel frustrated about information about our food… just keep in mind that there are so many health benefits in a variety of foods.   If you want to get radical about something, get radical about the amount of sugar you eat and the amount of processed/fried foods you eat.  Then eat a variety of foods, in moderation.

I think of it like weight loss.  There’s no magic “meal pill” that will be a perfect meal for your body just like there’s no perfect “diet pill”.  It’s not rocket science.  To lose weight, eat less and exercise (in most cases).  Same with making food choices – eat in moderation, and eat a variety.  No sense in getting overwhelmed and freaked out!

Now go eat some meat!

These steaks may not be what I would consider moderation, but you can always share:)

These steaks may not be what I would consider moderation, but you can always share:)

This post originally ran on the CommonGround Nebraska blog.

To learn more about the CommonGround movement, click here.

Chicken Wing Shortage Claims Are as Bogus as the Calls of a Replacement Referee

Frozen Chicken Wings in Cold StorageNewspapers, online sources and television reports alike have spent days now terrifying a hungry public with reports that party food favorite buffalo chicken wings will be in short supply this Super Bowl. Linking the supposed shortage to a variety of factors, from the drought to government biofuels policy, these reporters need to check their readily available facts.

Chicken wings will be abundant for the Sunday night football festivities in 2013. Actually, chicken wing supplies are currently 68 percent higher than at this time last year. All of the commotion is for naught.

Using data available to the public, and to the reporters who promote this bogus story, the above chart details the amount of chicken wings in cold storage over the past few years. This information, updated monthly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides unbiased, factual data about our nation’s food situation. As it turns out, there will be wings enough for all.

So how does such blatantly false fodder gain national attention?

A group, interested in whipping up public panic and a loud uproar that could work to their own benefit, concocts a pace quickening story that ties directly into a major event. Media outlets, looking for a quick space filler that will attract attention without creating additional work for already strapped staffers, picks up said story. Then, the attention grabbing atrocity takes on a life of its own.

The age old strategy might have worked too. If only it weren’t for those pesky publicly available government reports.

So go ahead and invite a few extra friends over for the big game without fearing a fight will break out over the wings. America’s farmers have you covered.

The Relevance of Agriculture

Definition of Relevance \ˈre-lə-vən(t)s\ – noun
a : relation to the matter at hand
b : practical and especially social applicability

I’ve heard the word relevant in relation to agriculture several times in recent months – from Senator Chuck Grassley, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and National Corn Growers Association president Pam Johnson, among others. Not that they are questioning the relevance of agriculture, but that Congress and society in general seem to be not just questioning, but even ignoring, the relevance of agriculture.

What is more relevant to a productive and sustainable society than a consistent, affordable and nutritious food supply? Nothing. What will it take to make the non-farming public realize that what they take for granted is not only relevant but vital?

ag-equalsOne way would be if we encourage this whole notion of “grow your own” subsistence farming. Most people would gain a whole new appreciation for farmers if they had to produce all, or even part, of the food they need to eat. They would also gain a whole new appreciation for crop protection products when they get insects and diseases in their crops. If more people had to keep chickens to eat eggs they might have a greater appreciation for poultry housing and antibiotics.

Relevance is all about being able to relate, and the majority of people have a tough time relating to farmers and ranchers. We’ve also never experienced any type of food shortage in most of our lifetimes, so it’s really hard for most Americans to relate to going hungry because the crop didn’t come in. There’s enough food to feed a neighborhood in the average convenience store – or enough to feed a whole starving village in sub-Saharan Africa where they don’t have convenience stores.

Food is what makes agriculture relevant. Agriculture literally equals food – not to mention feed (for more food), fiber for clothing, and fuel for energy. But mainly food. Without the farmers, there is no food.

As long as food is relevant, agriculture must be relevant to society and to its representatives in government.

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.



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