Feb 102009
Authors: Ryan Nowell

Imagine my surprise, opening up the paper this Friday to find a letter to the editor on behalf of the Corn Refiners Association, airing their concerns about some “factually incorrect conclusions” in my column last week.

Now between you and me, kind reader, I was all set to let this thing go and move on to greener pastures. Alas. The CRA just had to go and fulfill their corporate mission statement, didn’t they?

For the sake of space and Collegian policy, I’m not able to go point by point through the letter, but let’s just say I was a little disappointed that my first corporate finger-wag turned out to be a cut and paste of previous press releases.

That’s what corporate types call “staying on message,” a rhetorical tactic we’ve all become very familiar with in the past eight years, where you cling to one or two talking points and use them to bludgeon to death any further lines of questioning.

I suppose where I’m really getting hung up is where they reiterated that corn syrup meets the FDA’s requirements for being labeled “natural.” Beyond any semantics and before any science, the core problem here is credibility.

This federal definition emerged in a letter sent to the CRA in April of last year, summarizing a meeting between the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and administrators from Archer Daniels Midland, one of the country’s largest agricultural conglomerates and a top producer of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The fellows from ADM clarified a few of their manufacturing techniques and by meeting’s end, the FDA had made the call on HFCS.

Why am I so hung up on this? Well, friends, to answer that, we must take the way-back machine to the year 1976. Disco was king, Burt Reynolds was America’s leading heartthrob, our parents were snorting our college funds off of tiny mirrors and Business Week ran an article noting the certainty of ADM’s then-CEO Dwayne Andreas at the eventual passage of a new sugar bill.

Back then sugar prices were hitting all-time global highs because there weren’t many practical alternative sweeteners.

But Andreas changed that, first by vastly increasing American HFCS production, and secondly by making some, shall we say, strategic investment strategies. For lack of a better term, Andreas is king of soft money mountain. He’s one of the most prolific and generous campaign contributors in the history of corporate handouts, having donated to Hubert Humphrey, Nixon, Carter, Dukakis, Clinton and Bush Sr., just to name a few known recipients.

Andreas spent the ’70s greasing the wheels on both sides of the aisle, Business Week stating that “ADM may reasonably anticipate some legislative help,” and the new sugar bill arrived in 1981.

That bill, and the millions of ADM lobbyist dollars that followed over the decades, has had a massive impact on the American diet in the last 30 years. According to a case study by the Cato Institute in 1995, the bill increased subsidies on corn farming and engineered a sugar quota and price floor for U.S. markets.

“Wha?” you say? Essentially, the price for corn is dirt cheap, because the government pays for it. Even though farmers are making a hefty profit off the crop, they still get a check from the Uncle Sam.

Meanwhile, sugar, according to a Forbes article last year, is controlled through a convoluted loan system which keeps the cost of growing and manufacturing sugar high, the amount of sugar available low, and any significantly cheaper foreign sugar strictly off-limits.

In even simpler terms: ADM has manipulated agricultural policy to force HFCS into being the most feasible option for food makers. The only reason corn syrup is in everything is because ADM is paying lobbyists to keep our economy jury-rigged ($2,000,000 last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics).

I’m out of space, so I’ll have to stop here. But, if the Corn Refiners Association would like to send more watchdog propaganda my way, I’d love to spend the coming weeks talking about the ADM anti-trust case, the human trafficking and forced child labor incident, the Cargill tainted grain debacle and the environmental disaster that is ethanol production.

Ryan Nowell is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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