More corn going to ethanol production now than food production

Aug 19, 2011 12:00 AM

by J.D. Heyes

The world has a food shortage. This isn't speculative or subjective, and it's not fear-mongering or alarmist. It's a well-documented fact and, what's more, the real experts -- those who aren't influenced by government or corporate interests -- have been trying to make that case for months.
Moreover, these same experts say, the shortages are causing global food prices to rise -- dramatically in some cases -- which is only leading to more hunger, more pain and more hardship.

So, what is the United States doing to blunt the effects of this food shortage? What is official US policy regarding, say, the production of corn -- the primary ingredient in scores of food products and livestock feed?
Well, officially, our policy is to burn up a substantial amount of corn every year in our automobiles -- food that could be used to feed Americans and the world.

"In the United States, which harvested 416 mm tons of grain in 2009, 119 mm tons went to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars," says Lester Brown, writing in Foreign Policy magazine in January.
"That's enough to feed 350 mm people for a year. The massive US investment in ethanol distilleries sets the stage for direct competition between cars and people for the world grain harvest."

It must be a "West" thing because the Europeans are following a similar policy.
Though most cars in Europe run on diesel fuel, "there is growing demand for plant-based diesel oil, principally from rapeseed and palm oil," writes Brown. That has led to less land being utilized to grow food and the cutting and clearing of rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia, to harvest "fuel" for palm oil plantations.

Some experts say that using more corn in the US isn't driving up food costs, and it's not a problem for the global food supply, they insist.
The US Department of Agriculture, in its most recent Crop Production and Supply/Demand report for this year, said for the first time ever more of the American corn crop will likely wind up in our gas tanks rather than in the bellies of our livestock.

No big deal, says an industry insider.
"Every credible study has clearly found the effect of ethanol policies is negligible on the price of corn," says Monte Shaw, president of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

Not so fast, say researchers and economists from Purdue University. According to a report released in July, demand for biofuels (corn=ethanol) in the US is driving up food prices, and that phenomenon isn't likely to change for at least the next two years.
The study's authors said that in 2005, about 10 % of the US corn crop went to ethanol production; by 2010, that climbed to 27 %. And, since the Obama administration's official policy is "no new drilling" and alternative energy automobiles are still years away at best, the official policy of burning our food supply will remain for the foreseeable future.

As the world goes hungry and food prices climb, the world's breadbasket has chosen to burn up enough of a single commodity to feed hundreds of millions of people.
That's a pretty big deal.


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