Food, Fuel and Fiasco

Just last year, there was great excitement in rural America over the installation of ethanol plants. Corn prices were rising, and everyone wanted in on the game.

Corn prices rose all right, but there’s one little problem that someone failed to consider: what are we going to feed our beef cattle? Our dairy cattle? With this year’s drought, in the Southeast, hay is downright scarce. Cattlemen are struggling, selling off their herds because they can’t afford to feed them.

The New York Times has a good piece today about the upheaval in ethanol, but they don’t devote more than a sentence or two — buried in the third page — to the effect that ethanol production is having on other food prices. Most of their focus is the instability in pricing, due to the rapid ramp-up of production capability with lesser development in getting the ethanol to the blending and resale points.

As ethanol competes for corn, however, corn as food becomes more expensive, but so does beef (which is fed corn), chicken (which are fed corn), pork, milk, eggs, butter, cheese, and so many of the staples on which we depend.

At least NPR has picked up on the problem.

3 Responses to “Food, Fuel and Fiasco”

  1. on 30 Sep 2007 at 7:25 am Joel

    This is a very old and well-recognized problem. I remember my dad, a chemical engineer, describing it to me in the ’70s during the first petroleum shock. Using food for energy will ultimately fail because it competes with food. There is more demand for food than for petroleum.

    Moreover, using corn for energy is particularly stupid. It costs more energy to make a gallon of ethanol from corn in America than the energy in the ethanol itself. The corn-to-ethanol fad is nothing but politics–getting more money for agricultural subsidies in farm states. It has nothing to do with real energy economics.

    If we are ever to use agriculture to supplement our energy supply, cellulosic ethanol is the answer. And that problem hasn’t been solved after ca. 30 years of research.

  2. on 30 Sep 2007 at 4:28 pm AT

    Wired has a good article on cellulosic ethanol this month, ironically.

  3. on 30 Sep 2007 at 7:48 pm mickey

    Subsidies subsidies. ethanol would not even be considered without our tax money (it’s free). Stupid.

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