Update 6/18: From the Guardian article about obesity:
The story begins in 1971. Richard Nixon was facing re-election. The Vietnam war was threatening his popularity at home, but just as big an issue with voters was the soaring cost of food. If Nixon was to survive, he needed food prices to go down, and that required getting a very powerful lobby on board – the farmers. Nixon appointed Earl Butz, an academic from the farming heartland of Indiana, to broker a compromise. Butz, an agriculture expert, had a radical plan that would transform the food we eat, and in doing so, the shape of the human race. Butz pushed farmers into a new, industrial scale of production, and into farming one crop in particular: corn. US cattle were fattened by the immense increases in corn production. Burgers became bigger. Fries, fried in corn oil, became fattier. Corn became the engine for the massive surge in the quantities of cheaper food being supplied to American supermarkets: everything from cereals, to biscuits and flour found new uses for corn. As a result of Butz's free-market reforms, American farmers, almost overnight, went from parochial small-holders to multimillionaire businessmen with a global market. One Indiana farmer believes that America could have won the cold war by simply starving the Russians of corn. But instead they chose to make money. By the mid-70s, there was a surplus of corn. Butz flew to Japan to look into a scientific innovation that would change everything: the mass development of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or glucose-fructose syrup as it's often referred to in the UK, a highly sweet, gloppy syrup, produced from surplus corn, that was also incredibly cheap. HFCS had been discovered in the 50s, but it was only in the 70s that a process had been found to harness it for mass production. HFCS was soon pumped into every conceivable food: pizzas, coleslaw, meat. It provided that "just baked" sheen on bread and cakes, made everything sweeter, and extended shelf life from days to years. A silent revolution of the amount of sugar that was going into our bodies was taking place. In Britain, the food on our plates became pure science – each processed milligram tweaked and sweetened for maximum palatability. And the general public were clueless that these changes were taking place.Update 6/20:
The US long-term strategy was to dominate the global market in grain and agriculture commodities, as outlined in the early 1970s by Richard Nixon. This policy coincided with taking the dollar off the gold exchange standard in August 1971 to make US grain exports competitive in the rest of the world. However, in order for the US to become the world's most competitive agribusiness producer, it had to replace traditional American family-based farming with the now-widespread huge "factory-farm" production. In other words, traditional agriculture was systematically replaced with agribusiness production through changes in domestic policy. For example, domestic farm programs that had previously protected smaller farm incomes were phased out during Nixon's term in office. This policy was then exported to developing countries in a bid to make US agribusiness more competitive and to get a hold into foreign markets: The Nixon Administration began the process of destroying the domestic food production of developing countries as the opening shot in an undeclared war to create a vast new global market in "efficient" American food exports. Nixon also used the post-war trade regime known as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to advance this new global agribusiness export agenda. In Henry Kissinger's 1974 report "National Security Study Memorandum 200" (NSSM 200), he directly targeted overseas food aid as an "instrument of national power." The policy shifts during the 1970s were toward increased deregulation, which meant increased private regulation by the large and powerful global corporations. This led to an increase in corporate mergers and the rise of transnational corporations (which today often have larger gross domestic products than many nation states). As large corporate agribusinesses were creating their food production, storage and distribution monopoly, smaller domestic farms were going bankrupt and closing. (Although this trend was predominantly occurring within the US, it later spread to other developed nations, which were forced to "modernize" their agricultural industry to compete with global trade.) For example, between 1979 and 1998, the number of US farmers dropped by 300,000 and by the end of the 1990s, the agriculture (in the US at least) was dominated by large commercial agribusiness interests. The US also operated a foreign policy of offering financial assistance "to developing countries via the World Bank in return for these countries to open their markets up to cheap US food imports and hybridized seeds." By the beginning of the 21st century, world supplies of cereal were under the control of a few US-based monopolies. Four large agrochemical/seed companies - Monsanto, Novartis, Dow Chemical and DuPont - controlled more than 75 percent of the US's seed corn sales and 60 percent of soybean seed sales. By the merging of giant agrochemical and seed companies, livestock could be fed on a huge diet of drugs in order to stimulate increased growth. It has been estimated that in recent years the largest users of antibiotics and similar pharmaceutical products are not humans, but animals, which consumed 70 percent of all pharmaceutical antibiotics. Statistics show, quite shockingly, that the use of antibiotics by US agribusiness increased from 500,000 pounds to 40 million pounds (an 80-fold increase by weight) from 1954 to 2005. As a consequence, the Center for Disease Control in the US has reported an "epidemic" rise in food-related diseases in humans as a result of eating meat containing large quantities of antibiotics. One Harvard University researcher, Ray Goldberg, who set up a research group to examine the revolution in agribusiness (including genetically modified organisms), reported: "the genetic revolution is leading to an industrial convergence of food, health, medicine, fiber and energy business."