Supermarket bags, packaging, tires, biomedical prostheses made of corn: who would have ever thought that the world’s most popular cereal could be present in all these products?
At Expo2015, in the cluster of cereals and especially in Slow Food Pavilion, we can find out a lot of information about the corn and the importance of its biodiversity.
Did you know that, wherever you live, you eat corn several times a day?
Corn is sometimes invisible raw material that can be easily transformed into another: become fodder that feeds the animals in the large stables, therefore meat, eggs, milk and yogurt are made also of corn.
We find the corn also in most packaged foods: cookies, cakes, puddings, ice creams, spreads, chips, sauces, ready meals, candy, chewing gum, etc. Most soft drinks are sweetened with a syrup made with corn: industrial beers, iced tea and fruit juices contain corn.
In a supermarket we buy corn even outside the food department, for example in a toothpaste or in an ecological diaper. However, the word “corn” is not always listed among the ingredients.
Why you don’t find it on the label?
Because its derivatives have unsuspected names like glucose, glucose syrup, ascorbic acid, citric acid, malt, maltodextrin, dextrin, crystallized fructose, modified starch, sorbitol, lecithin, baking powder, dextrose, lysine, lactic acid, maltose, sucrose, caramel, xanthan gum, invert sugar, monoglycerides, monosodium glutamate.
Who eats it?
At the global level only a third of the production of corn is used for human nutrition. In some areas, however, the corn continues to be important as food for humans: in Africa, in Central and South America and in South Asia.
The corn does not contain gluten (suitable for celiacs) and it is high-fiber and controls insulin levels.
5 countries are responsible for the 70 % of world production: USA, China, Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine.
These 5 countries produce 799 million tons per year. With 354 million tons, the United States is the first producer in the world and the major exporter (37 million tons).
Where does it go?
The majority of the corn is destined to become feed for animals. The second destination is ethanol, it is a rather expensive fuel. What remains it is transformed by the food, plastics and pharmaceutical industries. Less than 1% of corn is transformed in grain and flour.
The biopolymers or bioplastics (BP)
Corn is also precious because, through technologies, it can be transformed into raw material for non-food uses. The BP are polymers typified by an high biodegradability. They can be synthetic or organic and then renewable, such as starch and dextrose. The use of BP concerns different sectors: bags, packaging, tires, biomedical implants.
Corn and obesity
The total number of overweight people on the planet has reached 1.4 billion, including 500 million of obese. But what is the connection between corn and obesity? Human health’s worst enemy is sugar. This ingredient can be produced from sugar cane or beet, or it can be a substitute of fructose syrup. The corn fructose syrup can derived from several products , but its cheaper version and more widespread is derived from corn starch . In 2013, in the US the annual per capita consumption of corn fructose syrup was 43 kg. The low price of the product has contributed to the phenomenon of obesity.
Too much meat
As said before, most of the corn produced is intended to feed the factory farming’s animals. The intensive production has had and is still having a negative impact on greenhouse gas emissions and on biodiversity. Over the years, corn was introduced in a animals’s diet unrelated to this type of food, such as bovine or salmon. During the second half of ‘900, the global consumption of meat has increased by 5 times and corn has certainly played an important role in this growth.
Corn is the first agricultural product in the world and in nature there are thousands varieties of this cereal, with shapes, colors and different flavors. These varieties are an invaluable genetic and cultural heritage, but the introduction of hybrid and genetically modified corn has reduced this diversity.
Why all this corn?
Corn is the right product to rapidly increase agricultural productivity because it grows quickly and is very versatile. Also, since 2013, the world production significantly exceeded the demand and the effect has been a significant price reduction.
Corn cultivation and environment
Corn plant consumes a lot of energy (fossil fuels) and natural resources (land and water). A quintal of corn produced using industrial methods consumes the equivalent of about 470 liters of oil. The corn also needs plenty of water (1,220 liters of water per 1 kg of corn) and chemical fertilizers. The cultivation of corn holds the economic point of view only until the fuels are cheap and until the agricultural policies of Western Governments continue to support this monoculture. In conclusion, corn is a very important resource but it must be used wisely. Corn has many advantages in terms of employment and production but, according to Slow Food, the mission of man is to be able to take advantage of biodiversity, avoiding monocultures and intensive production on a large scale.
“For Slow Food, the food that feed the planet is completely different: is with a soul, a history, with a deep bond with territory.”
Originally written by Francesca Vaccarello. Translated into English by Chiara Parapini.