Who fixes the price of white corn in Mexico? Talking about food justice, ethanol efficiency, corn subsidy, tortilla scams and the Invisible Hand

March 12, 2007 at 2:54 am (agriculture, corn subsidy, farmers, food security, media analysis, mexico, neo-liberalism, united states)

FIRST, just to make it clear:
I am not an academic nor scholar. Neither do I work nor am I trained as a media nor trade nor agriculture analyst. Much less, I am not a so called expert on anything. I am not an economist, nor do I have any particularly profound insight into free trade policies, except more of the same than what is available after a little shrewd investigation through the capacity to search and filter relevant information out of the internet, and that with being able to read and imagine with some sort of cultivated compassion for circumstances that perhaps I am barely able to imagine or comprehend. (1)

The search of my scope: Connect a few ideas, relate abstract ideas to real life experiences, and to look for transparency surrounding the unrepenting scurry of those invisible hands (spooky) The search for transparency in this study is in relation to holding food industry and government accountable for the impact and severity of harmful decisions, policy, intent and actions (2). You don’t need an expert to be able to form some basic and timely questions regarding the “unseen”(3) or “unreported”(4) aspects of how certain trade policies are written and carried out , as in this case, how it relates to corn subsidy and big agriculture welfare (5) in the United States.

This is my own study based in the education about where our food comes from, and it is rooted in a learning of justice for people and the unalienable human rights for land (6), the right to work with dignity, and the rights to sustainable, autonomous and localized food security (7)

So I want to make these questions bigger: What are people doing about this? (food insecurity ! !) (8) Who is working for food justice and where? (9) How can we support them or participate ourselves? (10) What do we know about feeding cities through urban agriculture? (11) How can we find out and share the education about where our food comes from? (12) How is it possible to improve the relationship to the food we eat? (13)

And to the praxis of practice developing through reading about all this, taking into account what we read by making this food philosophy into some kind of growable and edible anti-filosofy: Perhaps these are bigger questions to reflect upon before deciding exactly how it is at all possible to take into perspective our step by step to daily living. How are we responsible for what we know?(*)

I am also looking for detailed investigation over policy furthering the development, use and dependency of transgenic seeds, both in Mexico and in the United States. (14) I am also seeking information and research looking into the effects on our health from consuming industrialized (or genetically modified) corn products (or any other processed bio-mass), (15) How and why is corn subsidized in the United States? What is the corn used for? In what “daily” “food” products is corn-something a mostly “unknown” ingredient? Corn sweetener, corn syryps, corn starch, etc. What are the implications of this diet to our health? (This has been the most difficult kind of info for me to find, any help on this aspect of corn subsidies is extremely valuable.) I’m especially interested in this because it seems like building point where folks are motivated to leave behind processed foods, for the sake of their own diets. (check out and read up on a cornflakes-rat experiment, in an article by Sally Fallon at the Weston A. Price Foundation for Wise Foods.)

Among armchair internet investigation and such readings, I have also yet, after two months of semi-persistent query, have not been able to find any satisfying answers to the questions: How is it that the price of white corn in Mexico isindexedto the international price of yellow corn? And: Who or which companies (or concealed policy groups) are the entities that are responsible for writing and carrying out these reckless policies?

The questions I ask are sincere and should not be interpreted as rhetorical, self-assured, nor cynical. This is nothing more than my questions intertwined into blogging technology, and I want to make them into an invitation to others to send or share experiences, ideas, wisdom, investigation, analysis, links to reading, and other nods in the right direction, or any nod in other as curious directions.

***WHATS IN THE NEWZ ? ?

Do you enjoy perusing the real fake news? From the temporary annals of todays yahoo finance… Biofuels Boom Raises Tough Questions

a handful of yellow corn before it is processed at the Tall Corn Ethanol plant in Coon Rapids, Iowa, May 24th, 2006

So coming in today over the the AP wires, Matt Crenson brings us a report on the bio-fuel boom, which is the demand for yellow corn based ethanol as an alternative fuel source, and what he writes doesn’t offer us too many surprises. However he did write (or the article was edited) in such a way that produces some interesting characteristics about what is revealed, and what stays concealed, (intentional or not) especially, or I mean “exactly” in these kind of “political/policy” issues.

From todays article on the ethanol bio-fuel boom, we learn very little about corn subsidies in the US for big agriculture. In addition the article is perhaps also misleading when it mentions that the ethanol boom is “eating our dinners” (16). Crenshaw does however clearly mention that the efficiency of ethanol is SIGNIFICANTLY LESS than the efficiency of petroleum-gasoline, but the logic of making less efficent fuel than the fuel you are trying to replace is never questioned. The article also acknowledges plainly that “making ethanol is so profitable.”

But nowhere in the article does it mention transgenic seeds nor genetic engineering technology, nor are any big agriculture companies and lobbies named, nor are any policy writing organizations mentioned by individual or group name.

And check out this tantalizing piece of non-clarifying description about rising prices, corn subsidy and motivations behind the “phenomenon” of the movement behind free trade:

“Iowa, the nation’s top corn-producing state, is projected to have so
many ethanol plants by 2008 it could easily find itself importing corn in order to feed them. (new paragraph) But that depends on the Invisible Hand.(my ephasis) Making ethanol is profitable when oil is costly and corn is cheap. And the 51 cent-a-gallon federal subsidy doesn’t hurt. But oil prices are off from last year’s peaks and corn has doubled in price over the past year, from about $2 to $4 a bushel, thanks mostly to demand from ethanol producers.”

They just say it like that, “but that depends on the Invisible Hand…” In this article, it was written “Invisible Hand” with “I¨and “H” capitalized like a proper noun. Is this a mistake or is there something more behind this?

And the next paragraph we find a brief mention toward the tortilla scam in Mexico…

“High corn prices are causing social unrest in Mexico, where the
government has tried to mollify angry consumers by slapping price controls on tortillas. Lester R. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, predicts food riots in other major corn-importing countries if something isn’t done.”

“If something isn’t done..”. And what is it that is being done? And who is doing it? “The government tries to mollify angry consumers” after what happened? Of course there is no mention of the HUGE deals between Mexico and the US to import millions of tons of (duty-free)transnsgenic corn into Mexico (17) as part of the “solution” to alleviate the rising prices of WHITE CORN in Mexico.

(Oh and BTW in case you haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere, ethanol is made with YELLOW CORN (18), and yet somehow concealed somewhere the price of white corn in Mexico is fixed to the international price of yellow corn (19), because could you please tell me again, WHY..???

…And then in the following paragraph we find a little treat you don’t see in print very often. Getting to read about all the corn we ingest without knowing it, (yay!) everyday, but of course without mentioning the corn subsidies that make all this possible:

“U.S. consumers will soon feel the effects of high corn prices as well, if they haven’t already, because virtually everything Americans put in their mouths starts as corn. There’s corn flakes (20), corn chips, corn nuts, and hundreds of other processed foods that don’t even have the word corn in them(21). There’s corn in the occasional pint of beer and shot of whisky. And don’t forget high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that is added to soft drinks, baked goods, candy and a lot of things that aren’t even sweet.” (22)

In a minute of investigation I googled “ethanol” and “invisible hand” and came up with this article providing more minimally satisfying descriptions of corn subsidization:

There Are Big Problems With Ethanol, Namely Corn Supply

From Igor Greenwald, March 9th 2007:

“The end result is that corn, traditionally America’s most abundant natural resource, has turned into the focus of a scarcity scare, with futures prices nearly doubling, in just eight months. So taxpayers end up subsidizing this folly thrice: Once in federal payments to corn producers that totaled almost $9 billion last year, again in a tax credit of 51 cents per gallon for ethanol producers and a third time in the supermarket checkout line.”

SO TO STOP FOR TODAY, If nothing more this survey of questions and readings are also an invitation to put together some information with the end goal to compile something educational, simple and clear: What? Who knows? Fotonovelas? Kids literature? Decentralized education talleres? Downloadable pdfs, external blogs with links to wikis? Unique entries in wiki, like Mexico-US Tortilla scam of 2007, etc… ?

** I have yet to include the 20+ references, PS,  Any suggestions or help would be greatly appreciated.

****

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

The Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database

A text on rising tortilla prices in Mexico:
Big Biotech is Forcing Farmers to Buy GMO Seeds: The Plot Against Mexican Corn
by John Ross, from last month at counterpunch,org:

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

(Wikipedia has nothing much to offer so far over corn subsidy. The agriculture subsidy articles are unsatisfyingly “neutral” and abstract) (24).

from reddit, a charted discussion of ethanol and the invisible hand, “Ethanol and the law of unintended consequences.”

also from Wikipedia, on the “invisible hand“. The entry quotes Noam Chomsky commenting on the misrepresentation of the original Adam Smith metaphor.

And there is a much more reduced definition of invisible hand from economic terms at ask.com

“A term used by Adam Smith to describe his belief that individuals seeking their economic self-interest actually benefit society more than they would if they tried to benefit society directly. The statement “What’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice versa” expresses essentially the same belief.”

And a search on corn subsidy turned up an article in the Christian Science Monitor by Michael Pollan, the author of “The Botany of Desire”:

And “The stupidest federal subsidy” from slate.com, describing in some depth the inefficiency of using ethanol as alternative fuel:

zFacts.com on ethanol inefficiency: corn ethanol production and efficiency, also:

And various links about agriculture subsidy from the Washington Post, which I haven’t looked at carefully yet:

3 Comments

  1. mselizabethann said,

    lovely site, r. and terrifc question and intro. i will be writting more soon🙂
    m

  2. sandrar said,

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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