As I went to get breakfast the other morning from the hot bar at Whole Foods I noticed something that I never took notice too before. The scrambled eggs have citric acid listed in the ingredients. I had just read Amanda Littles essay, “Cooking Oil: How Fossil Fuels Feed the World (and Energy Shortages Starve it).” I was still trying to put together how corn farming and fossil fuels were both feeding us, starving others, and polluting our planet.
Since citric acid is one of those hidden ingredients of corn, I decided to look into the citric acid market to find out more. According to his book, “Global Price Fixing,” John Conner finds that by 1996 the U.S consumption of citric acid was about 435 million pounds and growing at bout 6% each year. That is three times faster than any other food ingredient at the time. I also found that almost 100% of citric acid is now produced from fermenting corn.
I already knew that fossil fuels are used in fertilizers, fossil fuels are used in machinery, transportation, in the farming and agriculture industry—but are we using even more energy to create a food additive that is not always necessary? And at 435 million pounds how much corn was being used on this additive that could have been used to feed the hungry.
This last year citric acid has been under scrutiny by the Department of Commerce to investigate trade dumping of the product. The report is preliminary, but I have linked it below. Although this would mean that the citric acid isn’t produced in our farms and production facilities in the US this is still disruptive to the overall global food system with effects on the US, and other countries involved.
Connor, John M. Global Price Fixing: Our Customers Are the Enemy. Springer, 2013.