Children of the Corn
Americans love corn! In fact, we consume one third of the world's corn supply. As a result, scientists have determined that over half of the American human biomass can be traced back to the consumption of corn. We took a look at the corn industry to see just how big it is, and here's what we found.
It's Really, Really Big
In 2013/14 the U.S. planted 95.4 million acres of corn.
- That's just over 5% of the contiguous U.S. (Contiguous US landmass: 1,891,098,508 acres).
- That's roughly the size of Montana (Montana: 94.1 million acres).
- Most corn fields are in the Midwest:
Corn Acres Planted by State 2013
One acre of corn yields 158.8 bushels of corn.
In 2013/14 the US produced 13,925,000,000 bushels of corn
- That's 389,900,000 tons of corn.
- That's just over 1 quadrillion kernels of corn.
- That's enough ears of corn to stack end to end all the way to Mars!
One bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds and contains about 72,800 kernels. That's enough to do one of the following:
- sweeten 400 cans of soda
- make enough oil for two pounds of margarine
- make enough starch for a ton of paper
- make 15 pounds of carbon dioxide "fizz" in soft drinks
- produces 6 pounds of beef
- produces 13 pounds of pork
- produces 20 pounds of chicken
- produces 28 pounds of catfish
It takes 5,096 gallons of water to produce one bushel of corn. Annually, the industry uses about 71 trillion (70,961,800,000,000) gallons of water.
- That's 64.4 cubic miles of water.
- That's almost 2 Lake Tahoes (39 trillion gallons).
- That's 27 gallons of water for every person in the world every day! (world population: 7,184,206,600)
- That's 610 gallons of water for every person in the U.S. every day! (U.S. population: 318,613,900)
Since 2005 the price of corn has fluctuated from $1.77 per bushel (November 2005) to $7.63 per bushel (August 2012).
Corn Prices per Bushel from 2005-2014
The average American spends $267 a year on corn products.
Corn subsidies in the United States totaled $84.2 billion from 1995-2012 including $10.1 billion in 2005.
Corn Subsidies by Year
Iowa raked in the most subsidies at 15.3 billion dollars between 1995-2012.
Corn Subsidies by State
Uses of corn in 2013/14
- Feed: 38% (5,175,000,000 bushels)
- Fuel: 37% (5,075,000,000 bushels)
- Roughly 1/4th of this (1,293,000,000 bushels) becomes DDGS, a co-product of ethanol, which is then used for feed
- Food: 10% (1,385,000,000 bushels)
- Exports: 14% (1,900,000,000 bushels)
Grains produced for feed in 2013/14:
- Corn: 95.3% (5,175,000,000 bushels)
- Oats: 1.8% (98,000,000 bushels)
- Sorghum: 1.7% (95,000,000 bushels)
- Barley: 1.2% (63,000,000 bushels)
Grains produced for food in 2013/14:
- Corn: 81.8% (1,385,000,000 bushels)
- Barley: 9.1% (155,000,000 bushels)
- Sorghum: 4.7% (79,000,000 bushels)
- Oats: 4.4% (75,000,000 bushels)
Americans consume one-third of all corn produced in the world.
- Consumption of corn (excluding corn syrup) in the U.S. increased 205% from 1970-2012:
- Consumption of corn sweetener in the U.S. increased 286% from 1970-2012:
Corn Consumption by Year
We Are What We Eat
The Mayan creation story tells us of how the gods made man out of corn. They believed that humans were literally made out of corn.
But were they wrong?
Modern scientists now have the capability to forensically determine the diet of humans. It's pretty simple how it works:
- Most plants absorb the carbon-12 isotope: a carbon atom made up of 6 protons and 6 neutrons.
- But corn absorbs the carbon-13 isotope: a carbon atom made up of 6 protons and 7 neutrons.
- If a person has a higher ratio of carbon-13 than carbon-12 in their flesh, it means that person has had more corn in their diet.
When scientific researchers took a look at the amount of carbon-13 isotopes present in North American diets, they found that more than 50% of the American human biomass can be traced back to corn consumption.
The Mayans were right—we're practically corn chips on legs.
But how can that be true?
Sure, we eat corn chips, high fructose corn syrup, and corn on the cob, but how could we be eating so much corn that our isotope ratios make us look like mobile cornstalks?
Because corn is basically everywhere.
Three out of four supermarket products contain corn.
All in all, there are more than 3,500 different uses for corn products.
acetic acid, acidulants, alcohol, alcoholic beverages, alkali cooked products, alpha tocopherol, amino acids, antibiotics, artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, ascorbates, ascorbic acid, aspartame, aspirin, astaxanthin, baby corn, baby foods, bakery products, baking powder, barley malt, beverages, bleached flour, blended sugar, boiled sweet corn, breakfast cereals, breakfast foods, brewed beverages, brown sugar, calcium citrate, calcium fumarate, calcium gluconate, calcium lactate, calcium magnesium acetate, calcium stearate, calcium stearoyl lactylate, canned corn, canned fruits, canned hominy, canned juices, canned vegetables, caramel and caramel color, carbonmethylcellulose sodium, cellulose microcrystalline, cetearyl glucoside, cheese spreads, chewing gum, chicken nuggets, chocolate drinks, choline chloride, citric acid, citrus cloud emulsion, coco glycerides, coffee whiteners, colloid emulsions, condiments, confectioners sugar, confections, cordials, corn, corn alcohol, corn bread, corn extract, corn flour, corn gluten, corn nuts, corn oil, corn oil margarine, corn starch, corn sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, cornflour, cornmeal, cornstarch, crosscarmellose sodium, crystalline dextrose, crystalline fructose, custards, cyclodextrin, d-gluconic acid, datum, decyl glucoside, decyl polyglucose, dehydrated foods, desserts, dextrin, dextrose, diet sodas, dietary formulations, diglycerides, distilled white vinegar, drying agent, erythorbic acid, erythritol, ethanol, ethocel 20, ethyl acetate, ethyl alcohol, ethyl lactate, ethyl maltol, ethylcellulose, ethylene, extracts, fermentation feedstock, fermentation medium, fermented beverages, fibersol-2, flavor enhancers, flavorings, food starch, fortified foods, french fries, frostings, frozen desserts, frozen meals, frozen seafood, fructose, fruit jams, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, fruit preserves, fumaric acid, germ, germ meal, glazes, gluconate, gluconic acid, glucono delta-lactone, gluconolactone, glucosamine, glucose, glucose syrup, glutamate, gluten, gluten feed, glycerides, glycerin, glycerol, golden syrup, gravies, grits, gum candies, hamburger patties, high fructose corn syrup, hominy, honey, hydrolyzed corn, hydrolyzed corn protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose pthalate, icings, inositol, instant breakfast foods, instant tea, invert syrup or sugar, iodized salt, ketchup, lactate, lactic acid, lauryl glucoside, lecithin, linoleic acid, liqueurs, liquid thickener, low-cal sweeteners, lysine, magnesium citrate, magnesium fumarate, magnesium stearate, maize, malic acid, malonic acid, malt extract, malt syrup from corn, maltitol, maltodextrin, maltol, maltose, mannitol, mayonnaise, meat products, medicinal syrups, methyl cellulose, methyl gluceth, methyl glucose, methyl glucoside, methylcellulose, microcrystaline cellulose, modified cellulose gum, modified corn starch, modified food starch, molasses, monoglycerides, monosodium glutamate, msg, natural flavorings, nougats, olean, olestra, pan coatings, pastry fillings, peanut butter, pet foods, pharmaceuticals, pickled baby corn, pickled products, pinole, polenta, polydextrose, polylactic acid, polysorbates, polyvinyl acetate, popcorn, posole, potassium citrate, potassium fumarate, potassium gluconate, powdered cellulose, powdered sugar, precooked meals, pregelatinized starch, prepared cereals, prepared condiments, prepared desserts, prepared egg products, prepared soups, prepared soups & sauces, propionic acid, propylene glycol, propylene glycol monostearate, pudding, puddings, retortable thickeners, saccharin, salad dressing, salad dressings, salt, sauces, semolina, simethicone, snack foods, sodium carboxymethylcellulose, sodium citrate, sodium erythorbate, sodium fumarate, sodium lactate, sodium starch glycolate, sodium stearoyl fumarate, soft drinks, sorbate, sorbic acid, sorbitan, sorbitol, sorghum, soup, soup mixes, splenda, starch, stearic acid, stearoyls, sucralose, sucrose, sugar, sweeteners, taco meat, threonine, tobacco products, tocopherol, treacle, triethyl citrate, unfermented beverages, unmodified starch, vanilla, vanillin, vinyl acetate, vitamin d milk, vitamins, water treatment, wine products, xanthan gum, xylitol, yeast
Even bottled water contains corn! Okay, so bottled water doesn't contain corn, but many of the plastic bottles themselves are made from corn.
abrasive papers, adhesives, boiler compounds, bookbinding, briquettes, candles, carpeting, casting binders, ceiling tiles, ceramic clay binders, ceramics, chemical precursor, cleaning compounds, coatings, composite binders, cord sizing & polishing, cork products, crayon & chalk binders, decorative items, detergents & cleaners, disinfectants, dispersion agents, drilling fluids, dry cell batteries, dye component, dyes & inks, edge paste, engine fuel, explosives, fiberglass sizing, fillers & caulks, fireworks, food packaging, foundry binders, fuel octane enhancers, gypsum wallboard, incendiary compounds, industrial alcohols, insecticides, insulating materials, label adhesives, labels, leather products, leather tanning, lubricating agents, metal plating, molded plastics, oilcloth, ore refining, ore separation compounds, oxygenate in engine fuels, paints, paper color carriers, paper products, plastic molding, plasticizers, plastics, plywood & wallboard, poster paints, powdered cosmetics, powdered insecticides, printing inks, rayon, rubber tires, sandpaper, shade cloth, shoe polish, soaps, solvents, surgical dressings, textile color carriers, textile finishing, theatrical makeup, wallboard, wallpaper, well drilling mud
And even if you're in a coma, you can't avoid it—nearly all nutrient formulas designed for tube feeding contain corn.
- Goetz, Delia, Sylvanus Griswold Morley, and AdriÃ¢an Recinos. Popol Vuh : The Sacred Book Of The Ancient QuichÃ¢e Maya. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950. Print.
- Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin Press, 2006. Print.