BioFuels causing a Food Crisis

Nice overview of the problems that Government subsidized biofuels are causing with overall food prices.

Corn is a lot more central to our entire food production than you might think at first glance...

From The Guardian Unlimited:

The looming food crisis
Land that was once used to grow food is increasingly being turned over to biofuels. This may help us to fight global warming - but it is driving up food prices throughout the world and making life increasingly hard in developing countries. Add in water shortages, natural disasters and an ever-rising population, and what you have is a recipe for disaster. John Vidal reports.

The mile upon mile of tall maize waving to the horizon around the small Nebraskan town of Carleton looks perfect to farmers such as Mark Jagels. He and his father farm 2,500 acres (10m sq km), the price of maize - what the Americans call corn - has never been higher, and the future has seldom seemed rosier. Carleton (town motto: "The center of it all") is booming, with $200m of Californian money put up for a new biofuel factory and, after years in the doldrums, there is new full-time, well-paid work for 50 people.

But there is a catch. The same fields that surround Jagels' house on the great plains may be bringing new money to rural America, but they are also helping to push up the price of bread in Manchester, tortillas in Mexico City and beer in Madrid. As a direct result of what is happening in places like Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana and Oklahoma, food aid for the poorest people in southern Africa, pork in China and beef in Britain are all more expensive.

Challenged by President George Bush to produce 35bn gallons of non-fossil transport fuels by 2017 to reduce US dependency on imported oil, the Jagels family and thousands of farmers like them are patriotically turning the corn belt of America from the bread basket of the world into an enormous fuel tank. Only a year ago, their maize mostly went to cattle feed or was exported as food aid. Come harvest time in September, almost all will end up at the new plant at Carleton, where it will be fermented to make ethanol, a clear, colourless alcohol consumed, not by people, but by cars.

The era of "agrofuels" has arrived, and the scale of the changes it is already forcing on farming and markets around the world is immense. In Nebraska alone, an extra million acres of maize have been planted this year, and the state boasts it will produce 1bn gallons of ethanol. Across the US, 20% of the whole maize crop went to ethanol last year. How much is that? Just 2% of US automobile use.

Note the numbers in the last two sentences - 20% of the US Corn crop being used to fuel 2% of the US automobiles. Meanwhile causing world-wide hardship (Mexico imports our Corn). And it's not just in the USA:

As the US, Europe, China, Japan and other countries commit themselves to using 10% or more alternative automobile fuels, farmers everywhere are rushing to grow maize, sugar cane, palm oil and oil seed rape, all of which can be turned into ethanol or other biofuels for automobiles. But that means getting out of other crops.

The scale of the change is boggling. The Indian government says it wants to plant 35m acres (140,000 sq km) of biofuel crops, Brazil as much as 300m acres (1.2m sq km). Southern Africa is being touted as the future Middle East of biofuels, with as much as 1bn acres (4m sq km) of land ready to be converted to crops such as Jatropha curcas (physic nut), a tough shrub that can be grown on poor land. Indonesia has said it intends to overtake Malaysia and increase its palm oil production from 16m acres (64,000 sq km) now to 65m acres (260,000 sq km) in 2025.

While this may be marginally better for carbon emissions and energy security, it is proving horrendous for food prices and anyone who stands in the way of a rampant new industry. A year or two ago, almost all the land where maize is now being grown to make ethanol in the US was being farmed for human or animal food. And because America exports most of the world's maize, its price has doubled in 10 months, and wheat has risen about 50%.

One last bit -- hammering home the seriousness of the issue:

In the US, where nearly 40 million people are below the official poverty line, the Department of Agriculture recently predicted a 10% rise in the price of chicken. The prices of bread, beef, eggs and milk rose 7.5 % in July, the highest monthly rise in 25 years.

"The competition for grain between the world's 800 million motorists, who want to maintain their mobility, and its two billion poorest people, who are simply trying to survive, is emerging as an epic issue," says Lester Brown, president of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute thinktank, and author of the book Who Will Feed China?

And we continue to burn high-value natural gas and petroleum in our power generating plants when Nuclear would provide much cheaper cost to run, safer operation and zero greenhouse gas emission. The technology to deal with the waste has been worked out and it is good.

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on August 29, 2007 9:25 PM.

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