The Food vs. Fuel

It seems the new American way involves a process that is not just from farm to food, but from farm to fuel.

In the name of a cleaner environment ethanol has, over the years, become very political, being blamed for everything from the power of the state of Iowa to world hunger.

It’s growth has been largely due to a policy by the U.S. government- a federal subsidy paid  to oil companies to incentivize them to use corn ethanol in their gasoline that is then sold to consumers at gas stations across the country.   It lasted 33 years and cost more than 20 billion dollars.

Sen. Tom Coburn led the charge to do away with the subsidy.

15 percent right now of the food increases in this country that you’ve seen in the last year are directly associated with this policy,” Sen. Coburn (R-OK) said on June 14, 2011.

The subsidy expired at the end of the year, but to this day, just about anywhere you go, 10 percent of what you put into your car is ethanol.

 That’s true, even if your car is a racecar, after a partnership formed between Nascar and the Ethanol Industry.

 So with 40% of the U.S. supply of corn going toward ethanol, that means the other 60 percent goes toward food, for people and animals.

And with the price per bushel more than doubling in the past 5 years, it’s no wonder food prices are going up.

 “When demand goes up for corn for ethanol, farmers plant more corn to produce that ethanol and they can’t plant as much of certain other crops,” said Tim Searchinger, Research Scholar at Princeton University.

Searchinger said that leads to the shortage and increased prices of other crops, and

 not just in this country.  In other countries, where people rely on corn meal as one of the only meals for their families, the price hike has been devastating.

Ethanol farmers and plant workers argue that the claims are exaggerated, since leftovers are actually used to make high protein animal feed

 “Everything else from the fiber and the protein and the fat, the corn oil is left over.  That is left over and made into animal feed,” said Daniel Matlick, Lab Manager at Lincolnway Energy Ethanol Plant in Nevada, Iowa.

Still – it doesn’t change the fact that one-sixth of the world's corn supply is burned in American cars. That is enough corn to feed 350 million people for an entire year.

 It raises the question of fairness in the increasing competition between fuel and food.