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October 01, 2010

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Why do you hate the American Family Farmer russell?

Iowa.

Michael Pollan's _Omnivore's Dilemma_ covered this exact same material in considerable depth a few years back. That book was pretty much his ticket to fame, and he has gone on to be the go-to guy on how bad our national eating habits are, but I actually found his earlier _Botany of Desire_ more interesting than anything since.

Farm subsidies are a scandal in this country - corn most especially - and neither party as a whole is virtuous about this issue. The GOP hypocrisy has a worse stink to it, but neither party does well - Obama included.

BTW, my inner pedant is compelling me to point out that 'facts' and 'factoids' mean the opposite or nearly-opposite things. I make enough syntax and grammar errors that I have no right to be smug, but I would love it if we didn't say 'literally' when we mean 'figuratively', and 'factoid' when we meant 'fact'.

It's the food equivalent of oil and the food industry runs on it. You might also want to follow up the effects it's had on Mexican farmers

Although these subsidies produced an increase in the corporate ownership of corn production, a decrease in corn prices, and dwindling numbers of employed corn farmers–not to mention the displacement and forced migration of Mexican corn farmers–Mexican voters have no voice in congressional deliberations regarding the approval of federal subsidies for American-grown corn.

NAFTA AND U.S. CORN SUBSIDIES| PROSPECT

BTW, my inner pedant is compelling me to point out that 'facts' and 'factoids' mean the opposite or nearly-opposite things.

Noted and corrected jonny. Thanks!

Also: haven't read "Omnivore" but I've been a fan of Pollan for a long time, starting with his work at Harper's back in the day. IMO he's a good guy.

Ag subsidies came into place following the Depression and Dust Bowl catastrophe. They were used to enforce 'decent' agricultural practice and to provide cheap calories so Americans wouldn't starve. Thus, two things were created:

1. A set of people who recieved money from a Federal tit.

2. A set of people who had careers managing said tit.

Y'all are welcome to review the history of nearly any government agency (pick your country, too) as to the results. The BIA is particularly instructive.

Real American Welfare Queens. :)

They were used to enforce 'decent' agricultural practice and to provide cheap calories so Americans wouldn't starve.

Your point about federal intervention creating inefficiencies and/or dependencies is noted.

However, it's hard for me to see researching and encouraging best practices and keeping Americans from starving as bad things.

Sometimes life is a matter of picking which version of "this kinda sucks" you prefer.

And a very large percentage of those peole who are dependent upon this particular entitlement are anti-big government conwervatives who vote for Republicans because they want their own taxes cut, want the deficit reduced, and want this to happen withouut their subsidy being touched.

And live in red states that elect Republicans more frequently than Democrats.

*respectful golfclap*

You know, russell, this is one of those issues where conservatives and liberals should be able to find agreement. Most conservative voters I know hate, hate, hate teh corn lobby.

Another ag subsidy that can be thrown in the dumpster for all I care: sugar. Just think: if you stopped propping up the price of sugar (and that's just what you, I and everyone else are doing), the price of sugar would fall, bringing price pressure on HFCS. Maybe too much price pressure.

We could stop bribing our kids to eat foods we think are valuable by adding a whole pile of sugar to them, too. There's a thought.

Minor addendum to this:

Cows are ruminants, meant to eat grass, and a diet of corn means a regime of antibiotics, increased risk of E. coli, and meat with less nutritional value to humans.

Corn is a member of the grass family. The problem with corn is not so much that it's a different kind of food, it's that the cows are given only the kernels as feed supplement. So instead of their stomachs doing a lot of work to break down the stalk and leaf matter (I think this is connected with cellulosic fermentation), it's just being given raw carbs, fats and protein with minimal fiber.

When making hay (so I'm told), it's pretty important to get the seed-heads along with the rest of the grass stalk, because the seed-heads contain valuable nutrients. But maybe that's all in line with fattening up the cattle.

Eliminating all ag subsidies is fine with me, but there are a lot of things wrong with Russell's post. Corn fed beef is far superior to grass fed. The PETA-style link Russell cites to is long on allegation and short on documentation. Corn doesn't introduce anything into a cow's system other than corn. As for growing fruits and veggies, both are high labor endeavors, which is why we import so much, farm labor costs in other countries being much lower than here. Further, fruits and veggies are seasonal and are much costlier to preserve (preservation having its own sub-optimal issues).

Corn and wheat are the staples of a high population planet. Both are federally subsidized. Not ideal health-wise, but about as good as we are going to get. People have to eat. End subsidies and food prices will go up--again, fine by me--but I'm not a corn eater, eat beef rarely, etc.

Finally, the higher corn subsidy is due to the relatively greater difficulty in bringing in a corn crop, as opposed to wheat or soy beans. Corn is very drought sensitive, drought as used here being a relative term. Absent consistent and reliable rainfall, corn has to be irrigated. Unlike wheat, but like soybeans, corn has to be cultivated while in the field, usually twice, requiring more tractor and labor time.

And, if I'm not mistaken, the ethanol debacle emanated from the green/left.

And, if I'm not mistaken, the ethanol debacle emanated from the green/left.

Yes, but it also has had strong support from red farming states, which is why it's lived as long as it has.

It's a fairly reliable thing, this voting your wallet practice.

this is one of those issues where conservatives and liberals should be able to find agreement.

That was my thought as well.

The problem with corn is not so much that it's a different kind of food, it's that the cows are given only the kernels as feed supplement.

Yes, I believe that is correct.

Mashing up the stalks and leaves and using it as silage, not such a big problem. As I understand it.

Corn fed beef is far superior to grass fed.

You don't like the hippies, try the Nutrition Journal.

Conclusion:

Research spanning three decades supports the argument that grass-fed beef (on a g/g fat basis), has a more desirable SFA lipid profile (more C18:0 cholesterol neutral SFA and less C14:0 & C16:0 cholesterol elevating SFAs) as compared to grain-fed beef. Grass-finished beef is also higher in total CLA (C18:2) isomers, TVA (C18:1 t11) and n-3 FAs on a g/g fat basis. This results in a better n-6:n-3 ratio that is preferred by the nutritional community. Grass-fed beef is also higher in precursors for Vitamin A and E and cancer fighting antioxidants such as GT and SOD activity as compared to grain-fed contemporaries. Grass-fed beef tends to be lower in overall fat content, an important consideration for those consumers interested in decreasing overall fat consumption. Because of these differences in FA content, grass-fed beef also possesses a distinct grass flavor and unique cooking qualities that should be considered when making the transition from grain-fed beef. To maximize the favorable lipid profile and to guarantee the elevated antioxidant content, animals should be finished on 100% grass or pasture-based diets.

Wiki, FWIW.

Please, go look for yourself.

Plus, 40 million Argentines can't be wrong.

I ain't making it up McK.

It's true that lots of Americans *like corn-finished beef better*, because it has all that nice marbling, but that's got nothing to do with whether it's actually more or less nutritious.

Corn doesn't introduce anything into a cow's system other than corn.

Precisely right. And, that's the problem. Cows evolved to eat grass, by which I mean the leaves and stalks of grasses. Not an exclusive diet of grain.

We finish them on corn to make them get big in a hurry. Good for the bottom line, bad for the animal, not so great for the person who eats the animal.

Conservatives who aren't dependent upon corn lobby welfare may hate the corn lobby but that doesn't stop them from supporting whatever big government program subsidizes their life style while engaging in the hypocrisy I described.

In Washington state the hypcrisy is around wheat, water projects, Social Security, veterans' benefits, and Medicare, for example. In Idaho the hypocrisy is around water projects and timber industry access to public land. And so on. Every state has conservatives who object to the funding of everything except what supports them.

That's why we will never be rid of things like the cor subsidies. In Nebreaska a Club for Growth hypocrite got elected to Congess last cylcle on an anti-biggovernemtn speding platform. Does anyone really think that he will go after corn subsidies? Or cattle subsidies? Or pork barrel water projects? Nope. But his support for the big governemtn spenndinng for the conersavtive voters of his state hasn't changed his rhetoric a bit.

Not to go all big picture, but maybe we'd rely more on more energy-efficient protein sources than beef, nutritional details aside, if we didn't have all this corn to fatten up our cows in the first place.

"We finish them on corn to make them get big in a hurry. Good for the bottom line, bad for the animal, not so great for the person who eats the animal."

While I am ambivalent about the nutritutional value, I love steak but eat small portions as a part of a more balanced diet (balanced with potatoes :)), I expect the slaughterhouse is worse for the cattles health than the corn feed.

I'd be more inclined to hear discussion of how corn makes antibiotics necessary from a large-animal vet or animal scientist than from John Robbins. I respect the guy, and respect his campaign, but I don't think he's really an authority on these things.

It was my impression that antibiotics were given as a routine regimen because it was cheaper to dose them regularly than to lose cattle to opportunistic infections. Like infections secondary to BRDC.

Possibly infections are exacerbated by enforced close-quarters living. There are some...dunno what you call them...cattle lots in New Mexico, between El Paso and Las Cruces, where they're packed in like sardines. If you want to see viral infections spread like wildfire, along with bacterial secondary infections, crowd animals together tightly.

grass-fed beef also possesses a distinct grass flavor and unique cooking qualities that should be considered when making the transition from grain-fed beef. To maximize the favorable lipid profile and to guarantee the elevated antioxidant content, animals should be finished on 100% grass or pasture-based diets.

My point was that grass-fed beef tastes like s**t. I've eaten it in Argentina many times. It's awful. Your cite implicitly recognizes that as did the PETA guy you previously cited to. Thus, the reference to "finishing animals" on grass, i.e. their last few meals should be grass. Well, that's fine if the food tastes ok. Look, we are going to die someday. Booze, cigars, candy, ice cream, steaks, whatever. End the subsidies, but please don't take away a good steak.

Plus Argentina has a gazillion acres of grassland (they also grow a lot of corn down there, BTW), much more than we do. Cows, being animals, fornicate frequently and produce offspring. In Argentina, it's more efficient to produce more cows who gain less weight (but who don't taste very good) because the grass is already there. And, 40mm is a lot less to feed than 300mm.

There's a cattle feed lot near I-5 in the California central valley (the standard route between the SF Bay area and LA). One whiff driving by is enough to tell you there's something seriously wrong with this system. We stopped to eat once all too nearby. I don't recommend it.

Cattle lots are a bit of a separate issue from corn-feeding, but I just want to note in passing that many times the cattle feedlots produce more sewage and waste than the cities and towns they're near, on top of all the other issues with such crowding of cattle.

End the subsidies, but please don't take away a good steak.

I don't think ending the subsidies will eliminate good steaks entirely, but it will probably put a big dent in their availablity. What if freeing the market makes good steaks harder to come by?

My point was that grass-fed beef tastes like s**t.

Seriously, different strokes.

And we got a gazillion acres of grassland, too. We plant corn on a lot of it.

I like a steak, a bourbon, an ice cream, and a nice piece of chocolate as much as anyone else. When I smoked, ditto cigars.

Live it up.

My question is why we are paying billions of dollars for it.

their last few meals should be grass.

Not "last few meals", it's last few months.

I haven't had grass-fed steak, but I think I could get used to pretty much anything, provided it wasn't grazed on tobacco.

Throw in a little rosemary and problem solved?

Some people really enjoy smoking weed. We spend lots of money trying to stop them, which is as opposite as you can get from subsidizing their habits. It's a weird world. (Maybe grass-fed beef would taste better after smoking some grass.)

many times the cattle feedlots produce more sewage and waste than the cities and towns they're near

But, in contrast to the towns they're near, that sewage and waste can be used as garden fertilizer.

I used to go to a local horse stable and get a couple of tons of stall waste (composed mainly of manure, compacted straw and urine) every few weeks. Eventually the stuff would wind up in my garden, which produced very well indeed.

Which is not to say that net/net, having a whole lot of livestock residing cheek-by-jowl with your neighborhood is a plus.

Not "last few meals", it's last few months.

Sure, russell. But there's a practice whereby E.Coli population is reduced significantly by changing feed to entirely grass for the last couple of days. Maybe that's what McK is referring to.

Slarti, I think you will find that the quantities involved render the "use it as garden fertilizer" suggestion inoperative. You can smell that feed lot for miles. There are huge mounds of waste visible.

Is it really true that nearly half of corn goes to ethanol?

That is much worse than I was imagining in my head. It is frankly awful, since ethanol has no redeeming 'green' value.

"I'm a lefty, so the idea of government involvement in the market just doesn't keep my up at nights. But if we're going to support private efforts with public money, can't we at least make things better, rather than worse?"

The libertarian critique suggests: no you usually can't make things better rather than worse when you get the government too deeply involved in picking winners in the market. The reason is exactly illustrated by ethanol: the political power is more likely to be used for selfish ends than for public ends, and is more difficult to check when it goes horribly wrong because it uses government force to avoid being disciplined by market competition.

There was a very short window around 1978 where there was a good faith belief that ethanol might be better for the environment. But we've had decades since with ethanol subsidies increased by political power in the face of scientific understanding and in opposition to the market forces. That is pure government meddling.

There are huge mounds of waste visible.

And all of that wasted winds up in your sewage treatment plant? I'd be surprised.

I'd be less surprised to see it wind up in your landfill where (if they're only half as resourceful as Orlando is) they've got mechanisms in place for recovering methane from decomposing, buried organic waste.

I wouldn't be surprised at all to see it get loaded up in trains and shipped to a Black Kow plant somewhere.

Again: none of which makes the experience more pleasant for you.

Going out on a limb, here, I'd say that the corn-to-ethanol thing only works because the mainly conservative corn lobby has colluded with the greens to make it happen.

I'd say there was some flim-flamming involved, but the greens are supposed to be the smart ones.

The people who note that energy breakeven is always conveniently out in the future are usually pushed to the margin.

Slarti: Yes and no. It depends on the animals and how they're raised. Horse manure makes very good compost, it's very balanced, and easy to shovel (my wife has horses, so I know from experience). Pig manure, on the other hand, is very hard stuff to deal with, in part because of all the phosphorous supplements given to the pigs. Cattle are somewhere in the middle, but the ones raised in close conditions, and dosed with antibiotics regularly, may not be very good stuff to use without treatment. It doesn't have cleaning chemicals or industrial chemicals in the waste stream as much, like most domestic sewage.

But the quantities generated require a lot more than a few backyard gardens. Some places now have sewage plants for the animal farms, others have containment ponds and then spray the sludge over a section of land ("land application") and then there's this guy who composts the waste from his farm, runs it through a digester to create methane that's burned for energy, and then makes pots from what's left. But most cattle yards don't do that.

There's lots that COULD be done with the waste from the feedyards, but it really depends on the kinds of animals, and the kinds of waste for what that kind of thing is. Plus the capital expenses for installing something besides ponds and acres of land to spray it over.

I happened to look into methane digesters once; yes, they are a good idea. I haven't done a thorough cost analysis but it's clear that at least some (probably many?) feed lots don't have them. Besides the cost of the digester itself you also have to keep the waste clean or the digester winds up clogged. This can be done but entails additional costs -- stainless steel floors for example.

My point was that grass-fed beef tastes like s**t. I've eaten it in Argentina many times. It's awful.

Proof that McTex is just disagreeing with everything liberals say out of sheer bloodymindedness. That would explain why all the top-dollar steakhouses advertise "corn-fed only", right, McTex?

I had some steak several months ago from a small farm in PA, and it was just delicious. The best steak I can remember having since I went to Peter Luger's about 10 years ago. I was told it was grass-fed, but I can't prove it. I know that grass-fed beef is lower in fat, and I can imagine that making it worse, but I am curious, McKT; what made it taste so bad to you? Is it tougher and less flavorful?

Being neither particulary lefty or righty, I'm of the opinion that government intervention in the market is a last resort kind of thing that needs serious justification. I need to be convinced that there is a pressing need for action, due to market failure.

I believe that in large part due to the difficulty in fixing stuff like this, where the government was used to interfere in the market and it turned out badly, but now there are constituencies that will fight tooth and nail to preserve the messed up status quo.

My perfect US government would likely be both more progressive and significantly smaller/less expensive than it is now. Getting there is, of course, impossible.

I keep meaning to track down some local grass-fed beef (if I can find it) and try it out. I'm not actually a fan of marbled beef - I tend to buy beef that looks lean (often london broil cuts) and then cut off the fat before I cook it. Call me crazy, but I want to eat meat, not fat. It's cool for me, 'cause those are typically the cheapest cuts.

YMMV.

Anaerobic digesters are finicky beasts, it's true. The treatment of animal/feedlot waste varies a LOT state by state, in many places it's not even required to be treated, since it's animal waste, not "sewage", thus the land application etc.

And I have no information on the difference between grass fed cattle poop and corn fed cattle poop.

The libertarian critique suggests: no you usually can't make things better rather than worse when you get the government too deeply involved in picking winners in the market.

I guess my point of view on this is that "the market" is kind of like the weather. I don't mind if government intervenes to deal with hurricanes and tornadoes, and I don't mind when government intervenes to mitigate the ill effects of an otherwise unregulated market.

Details matter, obviously, but I don't see a problem with government involvement per se.

The market can make some pretty bad choices also. That's because human beings can be stupid, short-sighted, and greedy.

Even Greenspan had, finally, to recognize that.

Anyone here know a) how much water is consumed irrigating corn for cattle consumption compared to grass b) how much fuel is used in irrigating each c) what sort of pesticides are necessary for each relative to the other?

On a related note, how about a) mass of corn vs. grass consumed to put on a pound of flesh in cattle b) food and water to put on a pound of flesh for cattle vs sheep or goats.

Seems like these things are all important factors in deciding what, if anything, to subsidize.

I've been looking for more on these for a while (ever since I taught a class where students wrote about Pollan) but haven't had much luck.

And America's preference for corn over grass fed beef is likely due to America's horrible sweet tooth. There's so much added sugar in our diet that things don't taste right without it. Cut back on the sugar and your tastes change.

Why do you hate the American Family Farmer russell?

You mean there still is one? Hang in there, guy/gal. We're rooting for ya.

One thing not mentioned (also pace Michael Pollan) is the corporate stranglehold on corn production, limiting seed supply through only a couple of companies, and engineering (legally or biologically) yearly purchase of said seed. It's protected and subsidized because it's making the big players rich. One imagines that level of investment in food production could have done better things for the public than protect Monsanto's monopoly for eternity, but on the other hand, this is America.

(Although, I have to admit that I'm not the world's biggest Michael Pollan fan. Good reporter, and I agree with him, but a not-so-good scientist.)

Regarding the waste lagoons at the automated feed lots, there are issues with groundwater contamination, just due to the sheer concentration of poop in one place (e.g.). You'd think that this is the sort of thing that is sufficiently usefult that it could be managed—fuel or fertilizer, or whatever—but I am sure there's little interest in adding those costs if they can be avoided (no more than Monsanto really wanted to remediate PCBs if they didn't have to) and cow-based fertilizer isn't really the big part of our national food model. There are further problems with contaminants such as the massive doses of antibiotics present in the waste, that are also leaching into the environment. Such liberal use, and piss-poor (if you'll excuse the language for the sake of a pun) containment of these chemicals is not really in humanity's general interest.

And finally, as a lurker, congratulations on the promotion, Russell. I have always liked your comments.

My point was that grass-fed beef tastes like s**t. I've eaten it in Argentina many times.

Me too. I think it's delicious! It tastes more beefy to my buds. And my Argentinian wife would much prefer grass fed beef - she thinks American/Canadian (corn fed) beef has less flavor and is mushy (AKA 'tender'). I think it's what you're used to, although I grew up on the corn-fed variety and like grass-fed better. I like beef to taste like beef.

What if freeing the market makes good steaks harder to come by?

Fine by me.

Seriously, different strokes.

And we got a gazillion acres of grassland, too. We plant corn on a lot of it.

There's a disconnect here: if grass fed beef can compete flavor-wise with corn fed beef, and if there is plenty of land out there on which to grow and feed cattle on grass only (which is way cheaper than feeding them corn), they why isn't everyone doing it? First, there isn't that much of that kind of land. You can grow a ton, figuratively speaking, more corn per acre than you can raise grass fed beef. It takes way more land to raise cattle than to grow crops. This is agriculture econ 101.

Second, does anyone know how many acres of grass it takes to feed how many cattle, and for how long, to equal the weight of one corn fed steer?

If you think feed lots are crowded today, just try getting to market the same volume of beef fed only on grass.

I suspect the subtext here is that some believe people eat too much beef and the way to fix that is to make beef prohibitively expensive through gov't intervention. You'd think the ethanol thing would have dampened enthusiasm for this just a bit.

That would explain why all the top-dollar steakhouses advertise "corn-fed only", right, McTex?

Top dollar steakhouses sell USDA Prime grade beef. There may be someone out there who produces grass fed Prime grade beef, but I doubt it. High end steaks are uniformly corn fed, in my experience.

but I am curious, McKT; what made it taste so bad to you? Is it tougher and less flavorful?

Both tougher and less flavorful and the flavor that was there was not particularly good. Both of Russell's cites concur with this point.

Taste is subjective, but there is a reason why more people eat a Snickers bar than a tofu patty.

Wild venison is extremely lean. Also, gamy, tough and very dry. I tried for years to acquire a taste for it. In my experience, the vast majority of people who claim to like venison are referring the backstrap (i.e. the tenderloin), to sausage made with half pork and a ton of seasoning, or jerky (again, heavily seasoned and uses only certain part of the deer). The point here is that people eat what they like. Even when they think they like something that is somewhat more healthy, it's often because the preparation method reduces the health benefit in exchange for flavor.

"I suspect the subtext here is that some believe people eat too much beef and the way to fix that is to make beef prohibitively expensive through gov't intervention. You'd think the ethanol thing would have dampened enthusiasm for this just a bit."

Wait, so, um... People want to have the government intervene to make beef prohibitively expensive by...stopping the current government intervention in corn subsidies?

The other issue(s) touched on with the discussion of both corn and the waste from feedlots is externialities. There's a LOT to our current system, most of them bad. Runoff from over-fertilized cornfields contributes a lot to the nitrate loads in rivers, especially the Mississippi, and the anoxic dead zones in the Gulf of Mexic. Feedlot runoff, the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer used to grow the corn, the antibiotics for the cattle, antibiotic resistant diseases created in the feedlots, etc, etc, etc.

It's not a matter of "people eating too much beef" like beef-eating in and of itself is a moral issue (that's a different discussion), it's the costs of our current system.

For an example, see here.

It's not a matter of "people eating too much beef" like beef-eating in and of itself is a moral issue (that's a different discussion), it's the costs of our current system.

There is nothing wrong with requiring any endeavor to clean up after itself. I can't dig a latrine in my back yard, and that is what feedlot animal waste is. I suspect the problem is understated by industry, overstated by the greens, but is still an actual problem that needs to be addressed.

In any event, end the subsidies. And, at a minimum, require feed lots to dispose of waste cleanly.

Now, what is the "different discussion" on the moral dimensions of eating beef?

I know I personally don't bring up more energy-efficient protein sources simply because I like controlling people's diets. So I don't think I have a subtext so much as a text.

Now, what is the "different discussion" on the moral dimensions of eating beef?

Ask PETA, if you really want to get into that. I know I don't.

if grass fed beef can compete flavor-wise with corn fed beef, and if there is plenty of land out there on which to grow and feed cattle on grass only (which is way cheaper than feeding them corn), they why isn't everyone doing it?

You get beef to market a hell of a lot faster finishing it on corn.

And corn's cheap because we subsidize it.

I suspect the subtext here is that some believe people eat too much beef and the way to fix that is to make beef prohibitively expensive through gov't intervention.

Not my subtext, I can't speak for others.

And I'm actually calling for *less* gov't intervention in the case under question.

If you like corn-fed beef better, that's fine with me. What you, personally, eat is not my business.

What the feds spend money on, is my business, because to some puny degree I contribute to it.

I don't have a problem with things like federal support for agriculture on principle, all I ask is that they do useful things.

Beef that is of lower nutritional value, HFCS, and stupid ethanol do not seem useful. To me.

For an example, see here

Nate, it's a rare story that doesn't have two sides, but my sense is the anti-antibiotic proponents have the much stronger case. This is a good example of when gov't can and should intervene: the risk is significant, the benefit marginal, time to eliminate low dose antibiotics.

The "different discussion" could be several kinds, actually. One like hsh mentioned, beef (and most meat) is a very inefficient way to convert solar energy into usable calories, which interacts badly with large and growing human populations. (This also ties into the issues of feedlot waste, fertilizer, etc).

The other one is the moral dimensions of killing an animal to feed ourselves when we have other options, which I'll leave to Peter Singer, since my feelings on that issue are more mixed. That's way outside the discussion of corn, though.

And corn's cheap because we subsidize it.

Grass is free. The economics drive corn vs. grass. If grass were competitive, it would win.

But, I agreed from the beginning: end the subsidy. It's a damned rare subsidy I'd keep around anyway (a big surprise, I know).

I know I personally don't bring up more energy-efficient protein sources simply because I like controlling people's diets.

Fair enough. What energy-efficient proteins that taste good are out there?

time to eliminate low dose antibiotics

I don't think you can have a feedlot model of raising animals without antibiotics.

The economics drive corn vs. grass.

I agree.

And the economics arguably produce a less-then-optimal result.

And the fact that we subsidize corn, specifically, to the tune of billions of dollars a year contributes to how the numbers play out.

There are lots of issues at play here above and beyond whether anybody's personal preference is for the flavor of grass-fed vs corn-fed beef. Land use and public health are just two of them.

Some people prefer corn-fed beef, some prefer grass-fed beef. Most folks who "prefer" corn-fed have never eaten grass-fed, because you have to go out of your way to get it. But net/net I don't think it makes sense to subsidize it, or corn production in general.

If we're going to spend money on stuff, it should yield a net benefit.

Hmmm, grass is free, but if you have factory farming, you have to have a food source that can be stored, easily shipped and takes up the least amount of space. Furthermore, if you have a food source that speeds up the process of fattening (allowing cows to be slaughtered for meat year around), the cost benefits may seem compelling if looked at narrowly. And they are so compelling that cows, who are not evolved to handle such a rich diet in such a close environment, have to be given large doses of antibiotics with their corn. And the rich diet gets you this

Perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn is feedlot bloat. The rumen is always producing copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all but stops, and a layer of foamy slime that can trap gas forms in the rumen. The rumen inflates like a balloon, pressing against the animal’s lungs. Unless action is promptly taken to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal’s esophagus), the cow suffocates. (Michael Pollan's An Omnivore's Dilemma, p 77)

Crap, that last should have closed italic tag

What energy-efficient proteins that taste good are out there?

Let's separate taste good from protein for the nonce. A human being my size requires something like two ounces of protein per day; pretty much what you'd get from a six-ounce steak.

Which means if you only ate that one steak, your protein requirements would be met.

I've heard that your kidneys can only metabolize something like an ounce of protein at a time, so if you eat a large steak, your body uses the protein mostly as if they were carbs.

I don't know how true that is, but it makes sense that if your body cannot make immediate use of a given amount of protein, it's either got to be excreted as waste or metabolized, of converted (somehow) to fat and stored. So, that big steak? May just be overkill.

People tend to overestimate their protein needs, I think.

The tastes-good aspect of things is, I believe, the most likely reason people eat too much meat.

"your body uses the balance of the protein mostly "

And the economics arguably produce a less-then-optimal result.

who are not evolved to handle such a rich diet in such a close environment, have to be given large doses of antibiotics with their corn.

The antibiotic and waste angles seem like the glitch to me. The waste part should have a technical fix, the antibiotics, not so much. Maybe we're just screwed. We're a fast food nation and getting the electorate to sign on to $25 burgers will be a tough sell.

The tastes-good aspect of things is, I believe, the most likely reason people eat too much meat.

That's a big part of it, today. Historically, people just need to eat. Per Undaunted Courage, the Lewis & Clark expedition depended almost entirely on meat for days on end for food. They ate, reportedly, 10-12 lbs a day to produce the calories needed to row, walk, carry, hunt, metabolize, etc. It was wild game and thus quite lean and therefore lower in calories. Meat, grains, veggies, whatever, we are talking food production and gov't subsidies. Take gov't out of the picture and we still have the production process.

Everyone needs X caloric intake a day. It's got to come from somewhere: wheat, corn, fish, strawberries, vodka, whatever. (I know for a fact that vodka without blue stilton and whole wheat crackers will not support life for long). Food production has a cost, environmentally and otherwise. What is the solution?

My point was that grass-fed beef tastes like s**t. I've eaten it in Argentina many times. It's awful. Your cite implicitly recognizes that as did the PETA guy you previously cited to. Thus, the reference to "finishing animals" on grass, i.e. their last few meals should be grass. Well, that's fine if the food tastes ok. Look, we are going to die someday. Booze, cigars, candy, ice cream, steaks, whatever. End the subsidies, but please don't take away a good steak.

Nothing like claiming objective correctness in a matter of taste. Also, you're wrong. So there.

Nothing like claiming objective correctness in a matter of taste. Also, you're wrong. So there.

It isn't just me claiming objective correctness. This from the kinda-PETA guy Russell cited to:

This is certainly an advantage for grassfed beef, but it comes with a cost. The higher omega-3 levels and other differences in fatty acid composition contributes to flavors and odors in grassfed meat that most people find undesirable. Taste-panel participants have found the meat from grassfed animals to be characterized by “off-flavors including ammonia, gamey, bitter, liverish, old, rotten and sour.”

To me, "ammonia/gamey/liverish/rotten/sour" means "s**t." It's not a one-to-one likeness, but a very close approximation.

Is there a victory dance emoticon? SF, SF, SF.

I am a horse farmer (thoroughbreds for the track), but many of my neighbors farm corn and soy beans. Some a dairy farmers.

First off, farming is frickin' hard work and extremely risky. I do not receive direct subsidies because of the nature of my business; though I suppose I do indirectly via gambling profits at state sanctioned tracks/casinos.

My neighbors who grow the crops and dairy products do get $s from the gov't. If they didn't, they wouldn't survive. Bad years would wipe them out. Totally.

Try farming for living and then talk about subsidies. I have a feeling your opinions would be quite different.

I am not sure about cows, but when horses are fed corn - which we do in the winter to keep their weight on (upstate NY) - it is corn that has been rolled and pressed and thus is far more digestible than the raw kernels.

Any how, the customer is always right. If people like to eat corn products and/or products raised on corn feed, then why argu with that?

My $0.02

Everyone needs X caloric intake a day.

X being, for a guy my size, approximately 2k calories (to be perfectly correct: kcal) a day, give or take a couple of hundred. Call it a bit under 3k on sparring day.

Most people aren't doing the mind-bendingly intense manual labor that the guys in the L&C expedition were doing. Also, I'd imagine that they were (I'd have been doing this, anyway) fattening up for the long trip ahead, in case the provisioning was interrupted.

Also, the guys in Undaunted Courage were partaking of only the hump of the buffalo; they left the whole rest of the carcass behind (which the natives, being thrifty&industrious folk, were happy to dispose of).

Maybe it's that tastes-good thing at work, to some extent.

"I guess my point of view on this is that "the market" is kind of like the weather. I don't mind if government intervenes to deal with hurricanes and tornadoes, and I don't mind when government intervenes to mitigate the ill effects of an otherwise unregulated market."

That is all well and good as a general statement, but it has nothing to do with corn subsidies. We don't subsidize corn because of any ill effect of an otherwise unregulated market. We don't subsidize corn because on balance we feel some special need to protect poor innocent farmers who wouldn't be able to survive without them. (The private co-op entity 'Farmers Insurance' did a great job of protecting against the risk of actual crop failure).

We do it because it makes politically powerful corn farmers rich and they were able to leverage a temporary alliance with the greens to put in place a subsidy that has the typical government problem of being permanent even if it is actively harmful.

My neighbors who grow the crops and dairy products do get $s from the gov't. If they didn't, they wouldn't survive.

I actually have no problem with federal, state, or other subsidies for agriculture, especially where that means agriculture is a viable way to make a living or not.

In my area, "subsidies" include forms like public or private non-profit ownership of land, which is then leased to farmers, so that farming can continue in the area. Without that, the land would turn into stupid 4,000 sf houses on a golf course.

Libertarians would say that's the way the cookie crumbles, I'd say it sucks. So I'm fine with public involvement in agriculture.

Net/net, no problems from me on the basic topic of public subsidies for agriculture, per se.

Also, no problems from me on the issue of people eating what they like to eat. Mazel tov.

My issue here is that we spend a *very large amount* of money on subsidizing corn, specifically. That isn't corn that people eat, it's corn that turns into ethanol, which I think is kind of dumb, or HFCS, which I don't think there is any particular public value in subsidizing, or feed for animals in feedlots.

Corn-finishing meat in feedlots, and especially beef, gets them to market faster than other ways, but at a variety of other costs, including the quality of the meat.

If you want to "let the market decide" what kind of meat folks should raise, then let the market decide.

But if we're going to intervene *at all*, I'm saying it should be in ways that actually promote public health, rather than the opposite.

My issue here is that we spend a *very large amount* of money on subsidizing corn, specifically. That isn't corn that people eat, it's corn that turns into ethanol, which I think is kind of dumb, or HFCS, which I don't think there is any particular public value in subsidizing, or feed for animals in feedlots.

Corn-finishing meat in feedlots, and especially beef, gets them to market faster than other ways, but at a variety of other costs, including the quality of the meat.

If you want to "let the market decide" what kind of meat folks should raise, then let the market decide.

But if we're going to intervene *at all*, I'm saying it should be in ways that actually promote public health, rather than the opposite.

I think you were pretty clear from the start, russell, but it never hurts to steer the myriad digressions (lots of which I am personally responsible for, I'm sure) back on track.

Any how, the customer is always right. If people like to eat corn products and/or products raised on corn feed, then why argu with that?

No one is. We're just arguing against what we think is a stupid subsidy. Sometimes people eat stuff because that's what's available when they go to the store. If it weren't, they would eat something else, and might not care in many cases.

Why subsidize one type of food over another without a compelling reason to do so? Eat all the corn you want, just don't ask me to pay for it, both in taxes and in environmental damage.

My neighbors who grow the crops and dairy products do get $s from the gov't. If they didn't, they wouldn't survive. Bad years would wipe them out. Totally.

I agree farming is hard work, and risky. I am pretty sure that soybeans aren't subsidized, but I can only say for sure that neither soybeans nor milo (grain sorghum) were subsidized back when I worked on a farm in the early '70's. That said, weather isn't a factor in dairy farming. Bad years come from drought or disease or the odd early freezing rain that destroys the crop in the field. Subsidies don't address that issue. Subsidies are paid per bushel on wheat and corn in addition to market price. I am pretty sure crop failure is dealt with by some form of disaster relief. But subsidies are paid on crops grown and harvested.

Also, the guys in Undaunted Courage were partaking of only the hump of the buffalo; they left the whole rest of the carcass behind (which the natives, being thrifty&industrious folk, were happy to dispose of).

I missed that part. I thought it was a blend of deer, elk and buffalo, depending on what was handy.

I actually have no problem with federal, state, or other subsidies for agriculture, especially where that means agriculture is a viable way to make a living or not.

I do. Seb said it better than me. Dependency plus political clout corrupt the process, shifting the cost to people who neither asked nor desire to participate. True story: to qualify for a wheat subsidy in 1971, a farmer had to let arable land lie fallow, i.e. the purpose of the subsidy was to pay farmers not to grow wheat. My farmer (I was his daughter's boyfriend) was no fool. We would put a brush hog on the back of a tractor and I would clear brush on the necessary amount of acreage to equal the 'lie fallow' requirements. In reality, no arable land lay fallow, there was simply some land without high brush on it that was being used for anything.

My neighbors who grow the crops and dairy products do get $s from the gov't. If they didn't, they wouldn't survive. Bad years would wipe them out. Totally.

Well, if there is a business what would not be viable but for governmental subsidies, it seems to me one must put forth a pretty damned good argument as to why said business should not be allowed to fail.

That's what a lot of folks said re: the Auto bailouts (I was one of 'em). I neither farm nor make cars, so obviously I had no direct personal stake in the argument.

I've seen the "no farms, no food" bumper stickers. Anyone care to give me the full version of the argument?

I am pretty sure that soybeans aren't subsidized

$1.7B last year, $22B over the last 15.

Dependency plus political clout corrupt the process

You appear to be under the impression that, absent government meddling, agriculture (or any other sector of the economy that you would like to name) are somehow free of corruption.

I don't think that position is supported by the facts.

Make a rule, somebody will game it. No doubt about that. A lot of life is playing one form of Mole Whack or another.

Don't make a rule, don't provide a subsidy, keep government out of it altogether, somebody will game that, too.

As I read the history, things work out better overall when government is in the mix. That's why I hold the positions I do. YMMV.

What game do you think the farm subsidies are protecting against?

$1.7B last year, $22B over the last 15.

Ok, news to me. Bad news, too. Jesus.

Don't make a rule, don't provide a subsidy, keep government out of it altogether, somebody will game that, too.

As I read the history, things work out better overall when government is in the mix. That's why I hold the positions I do. YMMV.

There is a lot to unpack here. Gov't is always "in the mix" in the sense that we have the rule of law backed by police power and a court system. How would ag be "corrupt" if the feds weren't involved? Illegal corn? Are you referring to environmental concerns, food purity, what?

Your premise is that gov't being in the mix adds value. How does paying someone not to do something add enough value to justify the payment?

I've seen the "no farms, no food" bumper stickers. Anyone care to give me the full version of the argument?

I haven't seen the bumper stickers. Hard to argue with the notion that, if all of the farmers quit growing stuff, we'd all go hungry. Ditto if the oil companies quit producing oil, etc.

Non subsidized crops will find their market over time. No one in DC will do it more quickly or efficiently. There may well be a period of adjustment and farm creditors are going to have to cut some slack or find out how hard farming is when they foreclose.

I think the "No Farms, No Food" is aimed more at the exurbs turning what were once productive farms into McMansion tracts and the like.

I missed that part. I thought it was a blend of deer, elk and buffalo, depending on what was handy.

I'm speaking specifically of the part where they are staying with the Mandans, IIRC, waiting for something or other, getting ready to boat to the Divide.

You appear to be under the impression that, absent government meddling, agriculture (or any other sector of the economy that you would like to name) are somehow free of corruption.

I think what he was getting at was more like this: subsidies facilitate an additional vector of corruption. ALL corruption isn't going to magically go away if subsidies are eliminated. Subsidies are, or can be, an in-kind return of donations to the interests that donated.

This is basically the same issue that lots of conservatives have with earmarks: not so much that they are wasteful, but rather they're a way for powerful politicians to buy the votes (in a tit for tat sense) of their constituencies using our money. Or, if you prefer, using money from the public coffers. It's inherently corrupting, don't you think?

Michael Pollan's _Omnivore's Dilemma_ covered this exact same material in considerable depth a few years back. That book was pretty much his ticket to fame, and he has gone on to be the go-to guy on how bad our national eating habits are, but I actually found his earlier _Botany of Desire_ more interesting than anything since.

Anyone thinking about going on a diet must read Pollan's FOOD RULES.

And, if I'm not mistaken, the ethanol debacle emanated from the green/left.

Yes, but it also has had strong support from red farming states, which is why it's lived as long as it has.

It's a fairly reliable thing, this voting your wallet practice.

Indeed. Why would any modern conservative support a green initiative unless they were the primary beneficiaries?

Russell, now that I've covered eggs, and you've covered corn flakes, I think it's clear that the ObWi collective must continue to fully address the entire spectrum of breakfast threats.

(The bacon menace has been well addressed elsewhere.)

You can have my coffee when you pry it out of my cold, sleepy hand.

Why would any modern conservative support a green initiative unless they were the primary beneficiaries?

Why would the greens come up with such a bad idea and how could a gov't we depend on so much for its wisdom make such a mistake?

Why would any modern conservative support a green initiative unless they were the primary beneficiaries?

That was very point-missing of you. It's not a green initiative, it's an initiative favored by people who style themselves as greens. And politicians, but I might be repeating myself, there.

Ah, the hazards of breakfast. See Three Eggs and Ham by the Capitol Steps.

All the food that's on your table
Has a most misleading label.
Grape Nuts have no grapes, no nuts,
No Swiss are in those Swiss steak cuts.
No cottage in your cottage cheese,
Your tuna has no bumblebees!


I didn't run the numbers, but my guess is that cattle feed and ethanol are two of the largest uses of US grown corn. Corporate farming interests and beef production and marketing interests lead me to believe that an objective would be to produce the most beef that people have a taste for at the least cost. Among the things that reduce cost is high weight/cow and short time to slaughter. These corn fed cattle are delivered with high fat, so they are flavorful and tender, and most people who are really into eating beef probably eat quite a bit more than they need for protein.

I do not favor subsidies and cannot think of one that I would support although it might be difficult to actually cast a vote without voting for a subsidy.
Does anyone here know how many acres of corn will yield and equivalent amount of fuel as the average producing oil well? And what is the comparative cost of production? If conservatives are in this with the Greenies, it one of the bizarre alliances of all time. Maybe those corporate conservatives are first cousins to those 'Wall Street' conservatives who are so smart in financial matters.

I can understand McK's thoughts and preferences for corn fed beef products. But I changed my eating habits a few years back, for health reasons, and I find grass fed beef is good, if not quite as flavorful. I'm retired in Utah, and my daughter and her husband have a small herd of longhorns they keep on a ranch down the road from where we live. They butcher a few head each year and we never buy beef at the market. The longhorns don't get as big as the breeds raised to sell in the markets and they are very much leaner and have much less cholesterol as well.

There is a whole range of better choices we could be making for health, environmental, and economic reasons. I have tried to teach my children how to make such choices and I think its working.

FYI, since ethanol keeps coming up...

The greens that supported ethanol tended to, for the most part, support ethanol from other sources.

Corn is perhaps one of the worst possible choices to make ethanol out of. The fact that it was even a choice at ALL was entirely due to the corn lobby. The fact that they got a giant subsidy for it is testament to the power of the corn lobby.

You could probably produce more ethanol per-pound of material by doing it with 20-dollar bills.

Sugar cane ethanol.

or Algae ethanol. Diesel too!

What game do you think the farm subsidies are protecting against?

How would ag be "corrupt" if the feds weren't involved?

Your premise is that gov't being in the mix adds value. How does paying someone not to do something add enough value to justify the payment?

These are all good questions.

I have no idea if there is a "game" that ag subsidies protects against. I don't think that's the point of ag subsidies.

My understanding is that ag subsidies help make it feasible for folks to make a living by farming, in situations where pure market forces would make that a dicey proposition.

I would support that, because IMO there are lots of reasons why it's in the broad public interest for domestic farming to be a going concern.

In the case of corn subsidies specifically, I'm not sure that a result that is really in the public interest is being achieved. So I'm agin 'em, at least in the form and scale that they exist now.

Subsidies aside, I imagine there are lots of ways ag could be "corrupt". Somebody could put rotten or unhealthy products on the market. Somebody could sell you skate chunks and tell you its scallops. Somebody could try to corner the market in brisket.

The possibilities are endless.

I can even imagine cases where it would be worthwhile to pay somebody to do nothing. The normal case is overproduction of some commodity, such that nobody makes money off of it. I guess you could let everyone go out of business and let the market take care of it, but I'm not sure that is, net/net, the best idea.

Food isn't widgets. We should think about food more like potable water and clean air, and less like automobiles and roofing nails.

My two cents.

What I'd really like to see would be taking some of the land that is currently devoted to "industrial" crops like corn and soy and use it to grow food that people can eat without further processing.

Tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, cucumbers, lettuce, asparagus, zucchini, pumpkins. Lentils, onions, apples, carrots, scallions, peaches, watermelon.

Stuff like that. These are a few of my favorite things.

A lot of land under cultivation in this country is quite close to large population centers. Grow vegetables, put them on a truck or a train, drive 3 or 4 (or 1 or 2) hours, and sell them.

Folks have done this for hundreds of years, and made a very nice, independent living from it. Some still do, and a lot of those folks don't need billions in federal subsidies to do it.

Seems almost self-evident to me, I'm not sure why it doesn't happen everywhere. This may be a case where public subsidies actually gets in the way, which is sort of the reason for my post.

Russell, now that I've covered eggs, and you've covered corn flakes, I think it's clear that the ObWi collective must continue to fully address the entire spectrum of breakfast threats.

Somebody needs to address the national menace that is scrapple.

Just saying.

I assume that originally the subsidies were intended for (or at least sold as) the agrarian equivalents of 'small businesses'. But same as today companies like Bechtel are 'small businesses' in conservaland so are huge agrobusines conglomerates. Iirc it is much more difficult for the proverbial family farm to secure such subsidies than the mega-farm next door.
---
[sarcasm]I just wait for Big Coal to revive the coal to fat program that the nazis pioneered to alleviate the war food crisis but produced so unhealthy a product that it served to slowly poison KZ inmates only[/sarcam]

The greens that supported ethanol tended to, for the most part, support ethanol from other sources.

I don't recall that. Certainly it's been only in the last couple of years that ethanol for corn has been shown to be not really all that green, and it's been around a lot longer than that.

But you might be right, still. I think the corn ethanol program had to have enjoyed bilateral support to get off the ground, and that (as I suggested) the people supporting the program(s) from the Left are people who don't really understand the issues.

Hence my distinction between actual greens and people who pretend to be green as a political selling point.

There are undoubtedly other categories, as well. Not ruling that out.

Subsidies aside, I imagine there are lots of ways ag could be "corrupt".

I think you're confusing or conflating fraud with corruption. Corruption would look something like: large ag endeavor kicks campaign donations to some politicians in an effort to maintain subsidies and (one would imagine) artificially elevated profits.

I think, as someone mentioned recently, the intent was to prop up the American farm, and to help people who needed help. What I'm referring to is not that.

If you want me to, I'll pull up some cites to what I'm talking about as actual corruption, but if you go out and google "big sugar" or "ADM corn lobby" you'll get a sense of what I'm talking about.

It's not so much the ag market distortion I object to; it's more the political-power market distortion.

On second thought, "Big Sugar" is a Canadian band, apparently, so you'll have to add something else there, like "corrupt".

"What I'd really like to see would be taking some of the land that is currently devoted to "industrial" crops like corn and soy and use it to grow food that people can eat without further processing.

Tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, cucumbers, lettuce, asparagus, zucchini, pumpkins. Lentils, onions, apples, carrots, scallions, peaches, watermelon."

Lentils are chock full of good carbs and protien. The pyramids were built by lentil fueled workers. I like them, but, generally, they are just not a part of our culture's taste preference.

The rest of those produce you list just don't pack the caloric punch of corn. And, besides, people don't like vegies all that much. You could live on corn, but not those other produce.

"My understanding is that ag subsidies help make it feasible for folks to make a living by farming, in situations where pure market forces would make that a dicey proposition."

I think your understanding is what the stated face of the program is. But it has exactly as much to do with the actual subsidy as played out as the stated family business rationale behind not having a high inheritance tax plays out. In practical reality, neither have much to do with their stated reasons.

Various farming mutual insurance companies or co-ops have covered the risk side of farming since well before the federal government did anything. Subsidies have never been about that.

Futures contracts mitigate most of the risk that the price will fluctuate too much (though many farmers complain when they turn out to have priced lower than the market, they don't complain when they turn out to have priced higher than it).

Both of these market solutions have tended to do very well.

Subsidies have been about avoiding otherwise normal market choices about *which* crops will get sold. Corn *at the expense of* other grains. Corn subsidies are essentially the reverse of making a large corporation pay for an externality like pollution. Instead they make us pay for wholly internal costs so they can undercut their competition and keep corn business at the expense of other business.

"Subsidies aside, I imagine there are lots of ways ag could be "corrupt". Somebody could put rotten or unhealthy products on the market. Somebody could sell you skate chunks and tell you its scallops. Somebody could try to corner the market in brisket."

This is really a whole different theory of government though. Promoting transparency and preventing fraud is a neutral government action. Picking market winners because the government 'likes' the corn lobby better is not. If those promoting government action (both from the left and the right at high levels of government since in practice both are more likely to be pro-certain-corporations rather than pro-market) were talking just about neutral government action instead of trying to pick the winners all the time, we would have a completely different dynamic.

But the way it plays out in practice is some company gets enough political power to push down their competitors, rally around some fake public rationale, and get special government protections for inappropriately long periods of time so that they don't have to innovate or otherwise compete.

On second thought, "Big Sugar" is a Canadian band, apparently, so you'll have to add something else there, like "corrupt".
Or subtract something, like "-Canadian."

One more question for anyone. How would a presidential candidate from either party do in the Iowa primary if he/she campaigned on a commitment to eliminate ethanol subsidies?

In contrast, subsidies for things we actually eat, directly, like fruits and vegetables, don't even register.
There's the subsidized water California farmers use. Also, the US is about the fourth largest exporter of rice in the world. If not for subsidized water, the US might be a net importer.
And, if I'm not mistaken, the ethanol debacle emanated from the green/left.
Yes, but it also has had strong support from red farming states, which is why it's lived as long as it has.
Think "Bob Dole."
Without that, the land would turn into stupid 4,000 sf houses on a golf course.
Texas has a very effective, though unintended, way of ameliorating that problem. As long as land is used for agriculture, property taxes is paid on the production of the land, not the value of the land itself. This has allowed large, open areas to remain in the middle of suburbs for decades.
...but my guess is that cattle feed and ethanol are two of the largest uses of US grown corn.
And meat producers have no love for ethanol since it has raised the price of corn.

The "corn fed" vs "grass fed" argument when it comes to beef is partly about mis-labeling. The real issue with corn fed beef is not the corn (bad as the subsitides for that are). It's that corn fed beef are generally fed corn in feed lots. And feed lots (someone mentioned the one along I-5 in central California) compare unfavorably with a pig sty when it comes to disease, odor, or just about anything else.

Because of the large number of cattle at close quarters on a feed lot, the ground becomes essentially an open sewage pit. Which, in turn, causes disease -- leading to routine dosing with antibiotics, which are the real issue as far as human health is concerned.

Now it is entirely possible (I know, because I grew up doing it) to raise cattle primarily on grass. And then, in the last few weeks before slaughter, supplement, not replace, it with grain (actually we usually used a mix of corn and other grains).

As long as you don't cram all the cattle into a tiny space, you don't have the disease problems. Which means that you don't need the antibiotics. And you still get the flavor that McTex et al. love. The down side, like with any non-factory farming, is that it is less easily automated and therefore more expensive.

The rest of those produce you list just don't pack the caloric punch of corn. And, besides, people don't like vegies all that much. You could live on corn, but not those other produce.

You missed the potatoes on the list. Ask the Irish about living on an almost pure potato diet*. Had it been pure corn they would have died a death of malnutrition sooner rather than later. Personally, I hate corn in (almost) all its forms but love potatoes.

*or Berlinians during the Soviet blockade ;-)

good catch, Hartmut re; potatos. Potato farmers are, I'm pretty sure, subsidized. Personally, I hate the tubors and like corn.

Potatos are a far less versatile product than corn. I think I see a pattern - a positive correlation - between versatility and caloric load and subsidy levels; which makes sense from a rational incentive structure standpoint.

Additionally, corn can be grown just about any where. I do not believe this is true of the crops that Russell prefers.

It's all very simple. People need to eat. Farming is a high risk business that would be a bad investment but for subsidies. Corn is a solid food staple - both directly and indirectly as feed for meat on the hoof - in all aspects and thus we would want to encourage its production. As for the dietary downsides, that is due mostly to a lack of common sense and discipline on the consumer side. I mean what good mother allows her children to indulge in high intake of high corn syrup containing foods and beverages?

Well, no surprise Hartmut, you live in the land of Oktuberfest...

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