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Corn Lobby Offers Flawed Data To Deflect Blame for Dead Zone

August 12, 2011

Corn Lobby Offers Flawed Data To Deflect Blame for Dead Zone
Source: Environmental Working Group

A new study released today by the US Geological Survey shows that efforts to reduce nitrate levels in the Mississippi River Basin are having little impact. Nitrates come mostly from the over-application of chemical fertilizers on crops in the Corn Belt, fouling streams and rivers and eventually helping to swell the annual Gulf of Mexico “Dead Zone.”

Corn lobbyists have been citing an analysis they commissioned in a bid to show that agriculture is not the source of nitrogen pollution in the Mississippi River Basin, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. The American Farm Bureau Federation and National Corn Growers Association’s claim is based on a 2009 report, titled “Hypoxia in the Gulf: An Analytical White Paper,” written by the business consulting firm StrathKirn, Inc. [ See the report]

Researchers from the Environmental Working Group recently reviewed the corn lobby’s report and today released an analysis that details its major flaws. [ See the report]

“Gulf fishermen and residents all along the Mississippi River Basin must endure this insult to their water while the culprits continue to deflect blame. It is time for the corn lobby to acknowledge that their cropping system is a major source of water pollution and take responsibility for it,” said EWG analyst Andrew Hug, co-author with Rebecca Sutton of the new EWG report, “Corn Cop Out.” [ See the report]

Large industrial grain operations blanket their fields with nitrogen fertilizer and animal manure. They help push an average of 164,000 metric tons of fertilizer down the Mississippi River into the Gulf each year, creating a low-oxygen Dead Zone of more than 6,765 square miles – an area larger than the state of Connecticut. The excess nitrogen triggers massive blooms of algae that block sunlight and ultimately die off, consuming oxygen and driving out or killing marine plants and animals.

The corn lobby’s study concludes that corn production can’t possibly be causing the pollution problem because all of the nitrogen applied ends up in the corn, not in the water. However, that conclusion is based on an outdated figure for the protein (and therefore nitrogen) content of modern hybrid corn. In the past, corn tested at 10 percent protein, but current measurements indicate that corn’s protein content has dropped 20-30 percent.

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