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Burning our food for fuel

Posted Thursday, April 17, 2008, at 8:53 AM

Late last month, Tyson CEO and President Dick Bond paid a visit to Shelbyville and said some pretty interesting things about the cost of food and ethanol production.

"I can rant and rave about this for some time, but some of the things that our government in Washington has done in terms of mandating the use of corn-based ethanol ... it's not right," said Bond.

Corn has gone from $2.50 a bushel up to $5.40 this week, Bond said, and this price jump "hasn't even impacted the consumer yet."

"Chicken prices are up only three or four percent and will have to be up like 20 to 25 percent as we go forward. We already have high fuel prices, now we're going to have higher prices on protein, cereals or any wheat products ... all the commodities will jump dramatically," Bond said.

We thought this was an important story and passed this up the line to the Associated Press. After all, this is the head of nation's largest meat producer saying that a government mandate was going to cause drastic hikes in the price of food.

But no one picked up the story. The AP seemingly ignored it.

But this week, the problem is getting a lot of notice in international press arenas and here as well. For example:

In America, the federal government pushes the production of ethanol from corn with a rich mix of tax incentives and protectionism. Refiners get a 51-cent tax credit for every gallon of ethanol they produce and are shielded from cheaper imported ethanol with a 54-cent-a-gallon tariff.

The result, totally by design, is that a huge swath of the U.S. corn crop that would otherwise go to food for people and animals is diverted to ethanol.

The National Corn Growers Association says 2.3 billion bushels of corn, or nearly a fifth of U.S. production, went into ethanol in 2007. That's up 28% in just one year. It also is 18% of U.S. corn production, a percentage that is bound to soar.

Aside from the impact in this country, take a look what this does overseas. This isn't about the price of a bag of Doritos going up anymore: The rising costs of basic commodities have made even staple food more expensive. In the Third World, that means people who could afford the basics like bread and rice now find them beyond their means.

"The reality is that people are dying already," said Jacques Diouf, of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "Naturally people won't be sitting dying of starvation, they will react," he said.

The UN says it takes 232kg of corn to fill a 50-litre car tank with ethanol. That is enough to feed a child for a year. Last week, the UN predicted "massacres" unless the biofuel policy is halted.

Of course, if you listen this guy, we need to, once again, make sacrifices to offset a totally boneheaded government mandate.

From this morning all sellers of transport fuel in the United Kingdom will be obliged to mix it with ethanol or biodiesel made from crops. The World Bank points out that "the grain required to fill the tank of a sports utility vehicle with ethanol ... could feed one person for a year". This year global stockpiles of cereals will decline by around 53m tonnes; this gives you a rough idea of the size of the hunger gap. The production of biofuels will consume almost 100m tonnes, which suggests that they are directly responsible for the current crisis.

On these pages yesterday Ruth Kelly, the secretary of state for transport, promised that "if we need to adjust policy in the light of new evidence, we will". What new evidence does she require? In the midst of a global humanitarian crisis, we have just become legally obliged to use food as fuel. It is a crime against humanity, in which every driver in this country has been forced to participate.

But I have been saying this for four years, and I am boring myself. Of course we must demand that our governments scrap the rules that turn grain into the fastest food of all. But there is a bigger reason for global hunger, which is attracting less attention only because it has been there for longer. While 100m tonnes of food will be diverted this year to feed cars, 760m tonnes will be snatched from the mouths of humans to feed animals - which could cover the global food deficit 14 times. If you care about hunger, eat less meat.

Riiiight. Have you ever noticed that every "crisis" has the same solution: A changed or reduced lifestyle for Americans and the West? It always seems that if people get fat, it's America's fault due to our lifestyle. If they starve, it's also our fault.

The only good thing about a global food crisis is the media can finally quit whinning about how obese everyone is.

Now, not all of the world's starvation is being caused by this biofuel flap. Places like North Korea and Zimbabwe both had starving citizens before this ethanol craziness hit, and yet no one is blaming the corrupt leadership in these countries for their part in this mess. Especially North Korea. I mean, how bad can your country be if you have to escape to China? More times than not, in every instance we send "aid" to these places, all it does is prop up some tinhorn despot who hates our guts and continues to starve their own people, as they arm their own thugs. Crop failures are also a big factor.

But I'm surprised that the foreign ministers of some of these Asian and African countries haven't indirectly blamed the food shortage and increased prices on Al Gore's "global warming" hysteria, which many say has lead to us putting food in our fuel tanks. Some are already pointing fingers.

Folks, right now the rain forests in South America are being converted to sugar cane for fuel, our corn resources are now diverted to ethanol even though we have plenty of oil already existing in the ground in a useable form -- we don't have to use our food resources to create fuel.

But we can't drill because it might upset the habitat of the caribou or the polar bear. Instead, we are using corn to fill our gas tanks while the rest of the world starves.

Something is very, very wrong with this picture.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Well, I think we can all thank Al Gore. After all, he won a prize for alerting us to the dangers of using fossil fuels. He preached and sang the virtues of creating a fuel source that didn't emit carbon dioxide. Did someone forget to tell Al that EVERYTHING that burns gives off carbon dioxide? Anyway, I could go on my anti-Al spill for several pages...

We have been watching grain prices rise and rise as we feed our horses. We will be selling two of them this weekend.

Here's a site


I realize its Greenpeace and there's some bias, but the facts are facts. We have really got to start educating ourselves and not listen to the rant of a politician who has all of a sudden proclaimed himself scientist. (Does that mean I can become a politician?) He has used political scare tactics to convince people (world leaders) who have no real information on atmospheric conditions to follow him like some sort of savior of the world.

Now the world is paying with the lives of children and adults it cannot afford to feed in the name of 'saving the earth".

I think we should tread lightly on earth. To me, that means I don't waste and consume products with wild abandon just because I can. I use what I need and little more. I don't squeeze an extra quarter from my fellow man because I want to stockpile money.

-- Posted by Jacks4me on Thu, Apr 17, 2008, at 12:00 PM

I confess,I'm very guilty of indulging in the behavior that creates the evil stereotypes.

I ride more than I walk.

I eat more meat than fruits and vegetables.

I buy more "imported" stuff than I do things created and sold locally.

I don't always renew,reuse or recycle.

Should I return to the lifestyle my parents had (with few of the modern day "improvements),I bet I would be healthier,wealthier and more able to face the world for having given as much to the world as I took.

I'm sure my ancestors are glad that their courage and wisdom enables me to have comforts and conveniences they never dreamed of.

I'm sure they're happy that I never had to do without sugar,coffee,beef or chocolate.

But,I think they'd wonder why my generation takes things as daily entitlements that they viewed as treats (even when we damage ourselves in the process).

-- Posted by quantumcat on Thu, Apr 17, 2008, at 1:52 PM

By making ethanol out of corn, they have driven up the price of a hugh amount of food in more ways than one. The price of corn is driving the price of cattle down while the price of fuel, hay and fertlizer have gone thru the roof. This will force farmer to reduce their herds, which might make the price of beef to go down, but when the supply goes down, then prices will soar.

When looking at beef prices in the store, I have yet to see a drop at the retail level.

-- Posted by Gale Barber on Thu, Apr 17, 2008, at 6:17 PM

What can we do as by standers, other than cutting back on what we buy and consume. Is there any way to fight our government? How do we go about letting the BIG BOYS know that we are pissed at the way the world is going.Please don't say we have to elect someone who cares.I thank God everyday that Al Gore did not get elected. Do we write letters, What? Anyone got any ideas to get it started?

-- Posted by redcat00 on Thu, Apr 17, 2008, at 6:35 PM

Well, let's see... "Big Oil" tells us all kinds of things that are wrong with using ethanol. Agriculturists and NatureLovers keep reminding us that the oil in the earth is continuously being depleted, therefore raising the price due to supply and demand futures. Hmmmm... how's that song go? Will the circle... be unbroken?

I think we're gonna be hearing these songs until the end of time. All in the name of greed.

-- Posted by craftin_mom on Thu, Apr 17, 2008, at 6:44 PM

We are in a lose/lose situation, on one side we have "big oil" lying and stealing from us, then on the other hand we have "big government" doing the same thing. Both are robbing us blind and pointing the finger at the other with us stuck in the middle. I have to pay extreme prices for gas, then when I finally have a hold on that I get to pay extreme prices on feed for my horses. I cant understand the mandate on ethanol, because it didnt affect gas prices, it just helped pave the way down into a complete depression by driving some more prices up.

-- Posted by greasemonkey on Thu, Apr 17, 2008, at 8:29 PM

Maybe we better work to find a practical,

clean,low-cost,inedible fuel.

Are solar-powered hydrogen cell cars or that ilk anywhere near ready?

Making ourselves less dependent on cars wouldn't hurt,either.

-- Posted by quantumcat on Thu, Apr 17, 2008, at 11:15 PM

I thought that if you used ethanol in your car..truck..or what ever that you do not get good mileage from it...So if we use that and it will cost us less but we will not get as many miles on it then I would rather use regular gas and use the corn like we have always used it..To feed and to eat....I may be wrong.. but that is how i feel about it..

-- Posted by rebelrose on Fri, Apr 18, 2008, at 10:49 AM

Wow. So many inaccuracies in this article, but I'll try to focus on the main fallacy: your "statistics" regarding corn ethanol.

Check out this link (scroll down to the chart food vs. fuel) that proves that corn production has risen at a faster rate than ethanol production. For those of you that do not care to follow the link, I'll sum it up: we have more corn (for food!) now that we had 6 years ago. There is no shortage.


What is the real reason food prices are rising globally? Fuel Prices (transportation costs are at an all time high) and Demand (rising middle class in developing nations are importing more food).

If you are ready to stop blaming Al Gore and start doing something about food and farmers, start by visiting the co-op that this paper featured in today's article, "Local Couple Supplies Organic Veggies" Your support of local agriculture helps your community and your world. Better yet, grow a garden this summer.

-- Posted by mom23 on Fri, Apr 18, 2008, at 2:15 PM

I always grow a garden evey year...But alot of things have come up in my life this year and I have nothing started...But I can always start a late one....With the good lord willing I will get it in this year..Even if it is late..

-- Posted by rebelrose on Fri, Apr 18, 2008, at 8:24 PM

Last year a 50# bag of corn was $3.10. It was $7.00 Saturday.

I really hope the technology.incentive for switchgrass ethanol production kicks into gear soon. It takes almost as much energy to harvest corn as it produces in ethanol. It's insane for people to starve for lack of money when the planet has so much food.

-- Posted by Jacks4me on Mon, Apr 21, 2008, at 11:37 AM

This looks like good news if it pans out. I suggest using lawn trimmings and kudzu, which we have no shortage of.


-- Posted by Brian Mosely on Wed, Apr 23, 2008, at 11:03 AM

Al Gore may be right or wrong but what he has done is draw attention to an issue that is very critical any way you look at it. Global warming has the potential to cause devastation to our coastlines and to alter weather patterns creating deserts in areas that are now fertile. Fossil fuels are a finite resource that will be depleted at some point in the future. We as stewards of the earth must start looking ahead to develop alternative fuel sources. Maybe corn based ethanol is not the answer, but it doesn't mean we can't keep seeking better sources of fuel.

Burning fossil fuels not only puts carbon dioxide into our air, it also puts other pollutants that are hazardous to human health. Fossil fuel emissions contribute nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, heavy metals, carbonic and nitric acids just to name a few. These compounds are detrimental to both plants and animals and contribute to significant health problems in our population.

-- Posted by volfanatic on Thu, Apr 24, 2008, at 1:58 PM

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Brian Mosely is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette.
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