Chemical analysis from restaurants across the United States shows that nearly every cow or chicken used in fast food is raised on a diet of corn, prompting fresh criticism of the government's role in subsidizing poor eating habits.
Corn is central to agriculture in the United States, where it is grown in greater volumes and receives more government subsidies than any other crop. Between 1995 and 2006 corn growers received $56 billion in federal subsidies, and the annual figure may soon hit $10 billion.
But in recent years, environmentalists have branded corn as an icon of unsustainable agriculture. It requires large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, both of which require large amounts of fossil fuel to manufacture.
Most of the resulting corn is fed to livestock who didn't evolve to subsist entirely on corn. In cattle, eating corn increases flatulence emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — and creates an intestinal environment rich in e. coli, a common cause of food poisoning. That necessitates mixing cow feed with antibiotics, in turn producing antibiotic-resistant disease strains.
Many of those livestock end up in high-calorie, low-nutrition franchised fast foods, which have been repeatedly linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Fast food's biggest selling point is its low price — and that, say industry critics, is largely possible because of corn's ubiquitous cheapness.Too bad there are no clear lessons to draw from this example for those advocating government subsidies for banks, insurance companies, automakers . . .