Food or Fuel?

Talking with an organic farmer can sometimes be an alarming thing, as they sometimes think about things in a way the rest of us don’t.   We were talking about the misguided agricultural policy in this country that subsidizes corn production (resulting in cheap sugar and meat) but not, say broccoli or tomatoes.  And then he dropped a little bomb.

“Some people say that corn production for ethanol might double food prices in the next couple of years.”  GULP!

Now, I did not find an article that said that prices would double, but there is a clear relationship between ethanol and overall food prices.

Over 20% of the current corn crop is already used for ethanol production, and the high cost of fossil fuels making ethanol more attractive.  So, 20% of the corn crop is lost, and next year more acreage will be planted in corn (perhaps to be burned as ethanol) removing land from growing other food crops, like perhaps tomatoes and broccoli.  Which is about what this article says.

What is worse is that even the most conservative estimates indicate that converting ethanol into fuel is not very efficient, only yielding about 25% more energy than is put in — mostly in the form of fossil fuels.  Using soybeans, on the other hand to make bio-diesel results in 93% return on the energy investment. Other researchers seem to feel that ethanol results in a net energy loss.

Whether it is a loss or only a slight gain, it appears that we may have to start asking ourselves if ethanol (and the car culture that drives its demand) are truly worth in the face of higher, perhaps much higher food prices.

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