I am sick of hearing news stories that are talking about the global food crisis in such narrow ways that suggest that part of the food shortage/high cost problem is due to the use of bio-fuels, namely more farmers using corn crop to sell as ethanol, and less to be used as food.
What occurred to me recently is that the issue is not just about ethanol. But many cattle farmers many years ago moved to feeding cows corn instead of grass. I found this film, which was apparently shown on PBS’ Independent Lens this year called King Corn, which describes the problem:
Before World War II, most Americans had never eaten corn-fed beef. Raised on pasture, cattle reared before the 1950s usually took two or three years to be ready for the slaughterhouse. Steers were fed grain only occasionally and in small quantities, and farmers tended to use corn as a supplement—not a staple—of their livestock’s diets.
But as American corn production skyrocketed in the post-War era, and as the economic boom of the 1950s prompted higher consumer demand for meat, farmers and ranchers turned to a new practice: fattening their cattle on corn. Cheaper and more efficient than grass, corn enabled cattle to be brought to market in as few as 15 months. Moreover, it allowed farmers to feed cattle in confined pens or lots, reducing ranchers’ land costs and limiting their risk of losing livestock to predators and bad weather. With cheaper feed in the equation, beef prices fell, and Americans began to purchase more and more beef, most of it corn-fed. By 1960, Americans ate a yearly average of more than 66 pounds of beef each. By 1975, that number had grown to 88.5 pounds of beef per person, per year.
In 2008, corn-fed cattle are the norm. While most cattle still begin their lives grazing on grass, the vast majority—an estimated three-quarters of them, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture—are “finished,” or fattened for market, in feedlots. There, they spend three to six months eating a diet composed of 70 to 90 percent corn. READ MORE: