Fuel vs. Food

While hope for this year’s corn crop is slim, hope for next year’s crop is also diminishing.  The midwest’s rainy season has already passed, so it is doubtful whether there will be enough moisture to start next year’s crop.  We are currently in the worst drought the U.S. has seen in 50 years.  While some areas saw some rain last week, the overall drought footprint decreased very little, less than 1%, from the previous week.  The land area under exceptional drought conditions is currently around 38.12%.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture rates 48% of the corn crop as poor or very poor along with 37% of the soybean crop.

In just a month the price of corn has risen over 50%, to new record levels.  This is bad news for consumers as food prices are already on the rise in addition to fuel prices (up 5% in July).  The USDA has already warned Americans to expect at least a 4% price increase in meat and dairy. That is bad enough in the developed world, where higher prices mean increased inflation and inhibited economic recovery. But for those in developing nations, who already spend three quarters of their meager incomes on food, it will be catastrophic.  Already about a quarter of Indian and Nigerian families go at least one day of the week without eating.

Yet, over 25% of the corn grown in the U.S. is not used for food, but instead to power our cars.  There is growing pressure on the Obama administration to end its support for corn ethanol.  Nearly a third of Congressional members signed a letter to the EPA to scale down its support for corn ethanol.    Critics fear that diverting food to fuel risks a global food crisis and will inevitably raise food prices.

The use of corn ethanol has been increasing since President George W. Bush passed his energy bill in 2007 urging greater use of corn ethanol and other bio-fuels to combat green house gas emissions and lower dependence on foreign oil.  Ethanol produced from corn and other plants produces fewer emissions when used in vehicles though it is debated whether there is much of a savings when the entire production process is taken into effect.  It must be noted that the average car can only use about 10% ethanol without an entire engine modification.  Also of concern is high use of genetically modified corn crops in the ethanol process.

With much lengthy debate over corn-ethanol and a quickly growing world population that is hungry for food and fuel sources, I do not see corn-ethanol being the best solution for our car-loving, greenhouse gas spewing society.  I fear that the carbon savings and environmental impact of corn-ethanol is too minute a solution to a make the necessary impact.  We need to stop debating climate change that is unfolding in front of our eyes and make real changes, like wind and solar energy along with better urban planning.


The information in this article was sourced from  The Guardian


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1 Comment



    August 4, 2015 at 10:24 am

    There was a story on he News Hour on PBS about this today. Very topical! I think we as cournmess forget the enormous interdependency between the various industries that produce what we consume. What amazes me is the globalization of these industies. A hundred years ago, the products that we consumed were produced within a train’s ride away from where we consume the product. I look in my cabinet and I have soy sauce produced in Japan, Jufran sauce produced in indonesia, Shirachi produced in Vietnam, curry paste produced in Singapore, spices grown in France…the list goes on. It amazes me how much our consumption of food has changed over the past century simply in terms of the globalization of my cabinet…it is a multicultural and diverse category. In Philadelphia there is an Asian market you would be interested in visiting…I wonder about the paths that these items they sell have taken to get here. One positive thing though concerns corn syrup – perhaps we could use a little less of it in our daily diet, given the rates of obesity and diabetes in our culture. I like the way you think about these things, Michelle.

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