The Industrial Food System: A Short Review of King Corn
In 2007, two independent film makers tried moving to Iowa and growing an acre of corn. In doing so, they uncovered the dynamics governing corn production and consumption in the United States, and produced a pretty good movie to boot: King Corn.
The film starts by looking at the corn and the consumer, noting that because of the widespread use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn is used in thousands (perhaps millions) of foods ranging from apple juice to ketchup to dog food. And although King Corn does not examine the connection in detail, many more recent films trace the dramatic expansion of obesity and adult onset diabetes in the United States to the increasing use of HFCS. About 18 percent of the US corn crop is transformed into high fructose corn syrup, which represents over half of all sweeteners used in the US today.
The second most widespread use for corn is conversion into ethanol for use in automobiles. In the United States, approximately one-third US corn is converted into ethanol.
But the most widespread use of American corn today is as animal feed, particularly in cattle to increase weights and shorten fattening time before slaughter. However, the use of corn as cattle feed creates problems, as cattle evolved to eat grasses not corn. As a result, they frequently develop health problems that require treatment with antibiotics. Livestock consume 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States, fueling concerns over the development of drug-resistant pathogens.
Why do we produce so much corn? The film highlights the ways in which the American farming system—both through mechanization but more importantly through government subsidies that encourage massive production of corn—have expanded output, leading to many of the problems observed in the film.
Although now over 6 years old, the film has aged well and many of the issues raised in the film are as relevant today as they were when the film was originally released. I highly recommend this one! There is a promotional website for the film. The trailer is below, and the entire film is watchable on Hulu.