The Corn Wars, by Luis Hernández Navarro
The United States is the world's largest producer, consumer and exporter of corn. And food is an instrument of imperial pressure.
The Corn Wars, by Luis Hernández Navarro
The United States is the world's largest producer, consumer and exporter of corn. But it uses this crop primarily to feed livestock and automobiles, manufacture high-fructose sweeteners, snacks, alcohols and oils. And, marginally, to feed people.
About 60 percent of US domestic consumption of the grain goes to industrial purposes, most significantly to ethanol production. The crop is a commodity, not a part of their culture.
Although corn is grown almost everywhere in the United States, its production is concentrated in the Corn Belt states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota and Missouri, mainly using genetically modified seeds. Across many of these regions, the dominant political force is the Republican Party. For the most part, corn is grown on highly mechanized ranches of more than 1200 acres. The number of family-owned farms participating is decreasing every year.
This cereal is the agricultural commodity to which Washington allocates the most subsidies. In 2019, it received 2.2 billion dollars. These benefit large agribusiness companies more than producers, and primarily industrial farms over small subsistence farmers.
As demonstrated by Ana de Ita as early as 1997 in the book “Mirage and Reality: NAFTA Three Years Later,” coordinated by Andrés Peñaloza and Alberto Arroyo, the truth is that these subsidies are a way of offloading and weaponizing surplus grain against Mexican peasants and farmers.
The US exports between 10 and 20 percent of its total subsidized production to countries such as Mexico, China, Japan and Colombia. In order to offload its grain in other countries without restrictions, it pressures/negotiates access to their markets through free trade agreements and the dismantling of sovereign protections. This is what happened with Mexico; first through NAFTA, and now through the USMCA. They compete with Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine, all of which have increased their presence in the global grain market.
Uncle Sam's agricultural exports are not merely a business, they go beyond that. Food production is a key and powerful weapon he has been sharpening for decades. As Peter Rosset has pointed out: war, food exportation and intellectual property rights have been core to White House economic strategy since the 1970s. Military industrial development, massive grain production and patents have been pillars of U.S. hegemony in the world economy. Food is an instrument of imperial pressure.
The proof is admitted in no uncertain terms. John Block, Secretary of Agriculture from 1981 to 1985, stated:
«The idea that developing countries should feed themselves is an anachronism from a bygone era.
They [developing countries] could better ensure their food security by relying on US agricultural products, available in most cases at a lower cost».
Agricultural commodities produced in the U.S. represent one of the main exports for this nation. With its domestic market flooded, it must push aggressively to open the borders to agricultural products.
George W. Bush ratified this view into law when he signed the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002. He expressed: «Americans cannot eat all that America's farmers and ranchers produce. Therefore, it makes sense to sell more food abroad. Today, 25 percent of U.S. farm income is generated by exports, which means that access to foreign markets is crucial to the livelihood of our farmers and ranchers. Let me put it as plainly as I can: We want to be selling our beef and our corn and our beans to people around the world.»
At the end of this year, the new Farm Bill (the five-year plan that determines the agricultural policies of our northern neighbor) is expected to be approved. The main influences on this issue are Uncle Sam's interest in continuing to make food a weapon wielded for controlling other nations and generating capital, the votes of farmers in the corn belt in upcoming elections, and the interests of large agribusinesses. In the midst of this debate, Mexico's February 14th decree banning the use of genetically modified corn for human consumption in dough and tortillas fell like a bombshell. Immediately, interests adjusted to put pressure on Mexico.
According to Tom Haag, president of the National Corn Growers Association:
«The Biden administration has been more than patient with Mexico, as U.S. officials have sought to enforce a rules-based trading system, to stand up for American farmers. The integrity of USMCA, signed by Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador himself, is at stake.
Singling out corn — our number one agricultural export to Mexico — and hastening an import ban on numerous food-grade uses makes USMCA a dead letter unless it’s enforced.»
Neil Caskey, vice president of that association, went even further:
«We have always believed that this would ultimately be resolved through the dispute settlement process of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal. Today we are urging the administration to begin that process immediately.»
The corn war between the U.S. and Mexico has escalated. Unless the grain becomes a bargaining chip in other major negotiations, what is at stake today is the real possibility that the Mexican economy could become autonomous, that is, regarding food sovereignty within the framework of the USMCA.
Luis Hernández Navarro for La Jornada, February 2023.
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Navarro, Hernandez Luis. La Guerra del Maíz, for La Jornada Online. February 21st, 2023.