Food Prices and Ethanol

Without belaboring the point that the food system is completely out of whack, we'd like to share these facts mined from Plan B 4.9: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (NY: Norton, 2009) by

It turns out that more than one quarter of the total grain crops in the U.S. was used for fueling cars last year. This same amount is enough to feed 330 million people. From the ethanol perspective, this amount serves a fraction of the U.S.'s fueling needs (if all the grain crops in the country were converted to ethanol, it would only satisfy 18% of current fuel consumption).

At the same time, the food-to-fuel conversion caused a spike in food prices around the globe, ultimately causing the number of undernourished people in the world to grow to one billion in 2009.

Put yet another way:
The amount of grain needed to fill the tank of an SUV with ethanol just once can feed one person for an entire year. The average income of the owners of the world’s 940 million automobiles is at least 10 times larger than that of the world’s 2 billion hungriest people. In the competition between cars and hungry people for the world’s harvest, the car is destined to win.
Information like this has been disputed since biofuels first went into mass production and subsidization. One such argument from 2006 reads:
Another concern is that making ethanol from corn is going to take food away from the world, and that food should be a priority over fuel. While there may be kernels (sorry) of truth to this, we have time before being concerned and time to manage this. Out of last year's corn crop of 11 billion bushels, 16 percent was used for fuel ethanol, 55 percent for animal feed, and less than 7 percent for human food.
To complicate matters, there is evidence that much of the criticism of ethanol use has come from Big Oil, for obvious reasons.

It appears, however, that another year's worth of effects and statistics, like the ones stated above, will help illuminate, in effect, ethanol's beneficence, nonmaleficence, or harm.
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1 comment:

  1. Interesting post! I think ethanol presents a very interesting case. While using a renewable resource as a source of fuel at first glance seems like a positive step away from the unsustainable use of finite resources, as you point out, the case is not closed. The fact that very little (percentage-wise) of the corn production is actually used for food is a side of the equation that demands its own investigation. I hold that it makes zero sense that there are hundreds of millions of hungry and under-nourished people in the world, and our system shifts to the production of non-food food products. The solution does not lie with ethanol.


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