Presidential wannabes don’t have to back ethanol subsidies to win in Iowa. Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz proved that much when he carried the caucuses in 2016.
On Thursday, however, millionaire biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy decided to “check-the-box” while claiming his newfound endorsement for ethanol subsidies was “not a check-the-box, we love Iowa kind of thing.”
Ramaswamy claimed in an Iowa interview with the Washington Examiner that government subsidies for ethanol were about “consumer choice.” The outsider candidate argued any absence of ethanol subsidies would be a subsidy on “non-ethanol.”
“You’re going to need to use Jaws of Life to save his argument for ethanol subsidies,” Federalist Senior Editor David Harsanyi wrote on Twitter. “Nothing says choice like subsidies and mandates!”
The federal government has heavily subsidized Iowa’s largest export, corn, for nearly two decades through the Renewable Fuel Standard. The 2005 regulations require gasoline companies to blend set amounts of biofuels into their mix to reduce emissions. Ethanol derived from corn has become the primary substitute for fossil-based fuels. Ethanol only exists in gasoline, however, to boost the corn industry.
A 2016 study from the University of Michigan with the American Petroleum Institute found biofuels such as corn ethanol is actually “associated with a net increase rather than a net decrease in CO2 emissions.” The conclusion comes out of the fact biofuels are far from carbon neutral.
Another paper from the University of Tennessee that examined the first 10 years of the Renewable Fuel Standard found “corn ethanol hasn’t lived up to its promise” as an environmental champion, “even after $50 billion in subsidies.” Instead, biofuels “created more problems than solutions” while driving up corn costs and production. Large-acreage farmers and the corn industry love the ethanol subsidies for essentially doubling the demand for corn.
Just a fraction of the corn grown today ends up on the American dinner table. About 40 percent is used for ethanol, and 36 percent goes to animal feed. Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson warned in 2007 that ethanol conversion, however, enhances ozone-related health risks of mortality, asthma, and hospital visits.
Processed animal feed, on the other hand, presents health risks of its own. Mass-produced corn feed is often laced with toxic pesticides wreaking havoc on the human microbiome. It’s not just what we eat that matters. It’s also what the cows eat. Doctors now recommend people get screened for colorectal cancer at 45 instead of 55 as cases appear at younger and younger ages.
Even much of the corn produced for human consumption is ultimately turned into high-fructose corn syrup, a sweet concoction of artificial sugar flooding our diet and feeding chronic illness. Six in ten Americans already struggle with at least one chronic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That number is only expected to climb to epidemic proportions if Americans don’t consider their current health status an epidemic already.
Excess branch-chain amino acids found in corn can also lead to liver damage without adequate exercise. Bodybuilders can use them, but a majority can’t.
Republicans, like Ramaswamy, who really want to take on the culture war, should tackle major food industries exploiting corporate welfare to prop up artificial industries that leave Americans sick in the process. Ultra-processed food might be cheaper on the surface in the short-term but is paid for by years in life expectancy in the long-term. Not to mention the billions in health care costs related to obesity and related chronic illness.