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02.23.11

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Corn Crimes

What we've dumped on Mexico

By Juliane Poirier


Today, a friend brought over some pictures of her adopted Michoacan village, where lack of monetary wealth is offset by rich beauty, bright colors and elaborate rituals that weave together the lives of the villagers. One picture shows a bright yellow table covered with food gathered by the villagers to prepare meals for the needy—peppers, lettuce, beans—and it looks as if everyone had raided their gardens.

In those parts of Mexico without Facebook to mimic actual face-to-face connections, my friend has experienced real functional community. Part of her success as a part-time resident of Mexico is that she does not impose American culture or food on her neighbors.

My friend's vibrant and touching photographs contrasted starkly with the dark images conjured by the latest USDA big-bully crimes against the world's food supply, and against Mexico in particular. Like my friends who have moved south on a part-time basis, I love Mexico. My spirit has been given so much by the Mexican people both here and in Mexico that I am all the more disappointed by what the United States has brought to Mexican residents, including high-fructose corn syrup, the cheap filler used in processed convenience foods.

In the past few years, high-fructose corn syrup has been exposed as a major contributor to diabetes, and just like we did in decades past with our surpluses of DDT, we're shipping more high-fructose corn syrup to our southern neighbors. A lot more this year, according to officials' estimates.

"Corn used to produce high-fructose corn syrup is projected 15 million bushels higher, reflecting strong shipments of the corn-based sweetener to Mexico," states the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report of Feb. 9, 2011. This is especially troubling, as Hispanics possess a greater predisposition to developing diabetes. But all that subsidized junk corn has to go someplace. Right?

Among the ironies here is that for centuries Mexico's farming economy was maize-based. The United States changed all that. First, U.S. agribusiness infected Mexico's ancient stock with cross-pollination from genetically modified crop strains. Then we undersold Mexican farmers in the marketplace, because our farmers get government money to grow this controversial crop.

According to UC San Diego researcher Rick Relinger, our corn exports since the North American Free Trade Agreement are directly responsible for the decline of a centuries-old farming economy in Mexico. "Competition with artificially distorted U.S. corn prices drove unsubsidized corn produced in Mexico out of its customary domestic market as Mexican consumers began to purchase American corn," writes Relinger. "Mexican corn farmers were no longer able to make a sustainable living due to the plummeting demand for their produce, and accordingly migrated from rural farms to urban centers in search of employment. Therefore, American corn subsidies are primarily responsible for the rural-to-urban population shift in Mexico that manifested following the NAFTA deal in 1994."

Last week, when the USDA opened its arms (and our Midwestern fields) to the planting of another genetically modified corn seed this spring, pro-GM votes came from congressmen who had received money from Switzerland's Syngenta. Syngenta owns the GM corn seed sold under the brand Enogen that will be scattered on American soil and harvested for ethanol production, despite the expected contamination of food crops.

According to a Feb. 14 MAPLight report based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Syngenta made contributions of $660,230 over the past decade to the campaigns of lawmakers involved with Agricultural lawmaking:

"[T]wo high-ranking officials on the House Agricultural Committee . . . top Syngenta's donor list. The committee's ranking Democrat Collin Petersen, D-Minn., has taken in $19,500 in contributions, while committee vice-chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has taken in $19,000. Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., sits among the top 10 with $11,000 in contributions. The House Agriculture Committee is tasked with oversight of the Department of Agriculture." I wonder how much Syngenta will make on the sale of that corn seed, subtracting the $660,000 they used to influence the lawmakers?

In the United States, money appears to trump all other values. So when my friend showed a picture of happy kids at a ramshackle Michoacan preschool, mentioning plans to raise money for it, I said, "Don't raise too much." They're fine without us.


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