Whenever I read an exciting book, I like to share it with my friends (and I think of everyone who reads this web site as a friend, perhaps because you were all so supportive of me during my recent illness). I recently wrote about The G.O.D. Experiments, the incredible new book by Gary Schwartz, in which he uses science to prove the existence of God. Right now I am reading an incredible book which tells how our modern farming methods use incredible amounts of fossil fuel (don't we have an oil shortage?), as well as Nazi chemical weapons technology, destroy biodiversity, pollute the earth, make us more vulnerable to bacterial infection by weakening the effects of antibiotics, contribute to a major disease epidemic, may be causing mental retardation in children and even lead to global warming. All this can be traced back to something that SEEMS insignificant: corn.
The book is "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. Here's a quote: "When humankind acquired the power to fix nitrogen [through the use of chemical fertilizers, a process discovered by an ex-Nazi chemical weapons inventor], the basis of soil fertility shifted from a total reliance on the energy of the sun to a new reliance on fossil fuel...every bushel of industrial corn requires the equivalent of between a quarter and a third of a gallon of oil to grow it--or around 50 gallons of oil per acre of corn...it takes more than a calorie fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food; before the advent of chemical fertilizer, the farm produced more than two calories of food energy for every calorie of energy invested...But what happens to the pounds of synthetic nitrogen that the corn plants don't take up? Some of it evaporates into the air, where it acidifies rain and contributes to global warming (Ammonium nitrate is transformed into nitrous oxide, an important greenhouse gas). Some seeps down to the water table." Pollan also talks about how this excess nitrogen has caused algae to bloom in rivers and ocean "dead zones," in which fish cannot live, and says, "By fertilizing the world, we alter the planet's composition and shrink its biodiversity."
The way corn weakens the effects of antibiotics is this: cattle are fed corn to fatten them up quickly, but they are not designed to eat it, so it leads to infections. They are then given antibiotics, which make their way up the food chain to us, so that when we need to take an antibiotic, it doesn?t work for us anymore.
Corn is also made into high-fructose corn syrup, which sweetens soft drinks and is included in many processed foods, because it is much cheaper than sugar. Scientists suspect that since HFCS is not a natural food, it is not "recognized" by the body and thus brings us only calories, while none of the nutrition from the corn is absorbed. Drinking soft drinks and eating processed foods made with HFCS may be one of the main reasons for the Type II diabetes epidemic in this country.
One of the scariest facts in the book is that some of this nitrogen fertilizer it ends up in the river from which Des Moines takes its drinking water. The area has regular "blue baby alerts," when parents are told not to give children tap water because "the nitrates in the tap water bind to hemoglobin, compromising the blood's ability to carry oxygen to the brain."
Does this mean Iowa is raising a generation of mentally- retarded children, a tragedy that befell people in the inner cities decades ago when their babies ate, and breathed the dust from, flaking lead-based paint?
Who would have thought something as benign as corn could be such a force for evil?
NOTE: This Diary entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.