Thursday, September 13, 2007

King Corn: New Film Dramatically Portrays the Impact of Corn

America has become one nation under corn, with each of us consuming more than a ton every year in the form of soda, fast food, and thousands of household food staples. As nearly 100 million acres of corn will be planted this year, a new film, King Corn, examines the serious consequences of corn overproduction in the U.S., including the rise in obesity and diabetes, the loss of family farms and the dramatic impact on rural communities across the Midwest. The film highlights these issues as Congress is set to debate the 2007 Farm Bill, a timely opportunity to change what our tax dollars subsidize and what we eat. King Corn is SiCKO meets Super Size Me—an unexpected and entertaining ride through the American food system.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) makes America’s sodas sweet, corn-fed beef makes our burgers fat, and corn oil crisps our fries. Before you drink another corn-sweetened soda, King Corn is food for thought. Director and producer Aaron Woolf follows best friends and co-producers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis as they grow an acre of commercial corn in a tiny town in the heart of Iowa and attempt to trace its fate from seed to supermarket, only to find dismaying facts about the American fast-food empire’s secret ingredient.

As Ian and Curt find out, their junk food generation has grown up eating so much corn that when they test their own hair, it’s actually made of the stuff. Their journey uncovers commercial corn’s disturbing path to our diet, from genetically modified seeds and chemically processed corn syrup to a bumper crop of obesity and diabetes—and how our tax dollars pay farmers to grow the crop that’s making us sick. From their one acre, Ian and Curt harvest enough corn to make 57,348 sodas, 3,894 burgers or 6,726 boxes of corn flakes.

American consumption of HFCS has dramatically increased over the past forty years: In 1970, Americans consumed an average of 0.6 pounds of HFCS a year. This year, we will each gulp down an astonishing average of 73.5 pounds of HFCS per person; nearly 70 percent of it sweetens our soda, the number one beverage consumed by Americans. At the same time, fully two-thirds of us—66 percent of Americans—are classified as overweight or obese, up from 47.7 percent in 1971.

In addition, the nation’s most planted, processed, and subsidized crop has serious implications for the health of America’s family farms. Large corporate farms are eagerly snatching up small farms that can no longer compete in a subsidy-driven world of razor-thin margins, leading the total number of farms in the U.S. to plummet from approximately 5.5 million in 1947 to around 2 million today. The film clearly shows how the American food system is built on the abundance of corn, perpetuated by a subsidy system that pays huge industrial farms to maximize production: In 2005, federal subsidies spent $9.4 billion in taxpayer money to promote corn far beyond market demand.

Join Ian and Curt as they attempt to make a home-cooked batch of sweetener from their own corn; visit a feedlot with 100,000 cows standing shoulder-to-shoulder in their own waste; and follow soda to its consumption in Brooklyn, where Type II diabetes is ravaging the community.

They also talk to experts close to this disturbing phenomenon:

McDonald’s is King Corn: “If you take a McDonald’s meal, you don’t realize it when you eat it, but you’re eating corn. Beef has been corn-fed. Soda is corn. Even the French fries. Half the calories in the French fries come from the fat they’re fried in, which is liable to be either corn oil or soy oil. So when you’re at McDonald’s, you’re eating Iowa food,” says journalist and author Michael Pollan.

Explosion of Obesity & Diabetes: “We have an explosion of obesity that’s probably the most conspicuous symptom of the nutritional crisis occurring in America, but the obesity’s only just part of it,” says Dr. Walter Willett, Chair, Harvard Department of Nutrition. “In a recent analysis we found that drinking one soda per day on average almost doubled the risk of Type II diabetes compared to only occasionally having a soda beverage or not at all.”

Cheap Food Replaces Family Farms: “Rural America has completely changed. The kind of farm that I grew up on doesn’t exist today…. It used to be a family operation but it’s not anymore. But as a consequence we feed ourselves very cheaply now. You see those tremendous fields of corn out there, corn as far as you can see. That’s the age of plenty…. Well, it’s the basis of our affluence now, the fact that we spend less on food. It’s America’s best-kept secret,” says Dr. Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon and Ford, who invented the modern subsidies system.

According to author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, “By the end of this movie, you’ll understand an enormous amount about why America is the way it is. Funny, wise, powerful—it’s the other end of the Super Size Me story, and every bit as compelling.”

Presented by Balcony Releasing, a Mosaic Films Production directed and produced by Aaron Woolf, King Corn is planned for national release in the weeks to follow its October 12 premiere in New York. For further markets, release dates, a full press kit and an index of corn’s impact, please visit:

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