Food and energy economies merge

Back when the US and the “coalition of the willing” were planning the Iraqi invasion, I was all for biofuels made from corn and other grains as a way to get us away from these blasted blood for oil wars. Then someone pointed out to me how much corn is need to fill a gas tank. It takes over 26 pounds of corn to make 1 gallon of ethanol. 26 pounds of corn feeds someone for a substantial period.

This was just something I hadn’t considered – the negative impacts of the diversion of food to fuel production. It quickly became quite clear this was a really bad idea.

Corn is an incredibly important crop – it’s used for everything from feeding beef and dairy cattle and poultry, to sweetening foods; even some forms of packaging – just about everything we eat has some connection to corn. That’s likely not a good thing in itself, but a different topic altogether.

What we are seeing through the love affair with corn is that the once (mostly) separate fuel and food economies are merging. Have you ever heard of gas prices going up because of even just a threat of possible drought? It’s likely you will soon.

The corn-based biofuel industry is putting incredible upward pressure on prices on anything corn related and with ethanol making up around 6% of the USA’s gasoline supply during 2008, then growing to an expected 10% over the next five years; a bad long range weather forecast could quite easily increase the price of gas. Some countries are also now whacking on tariffs on corn exports in order to try and keep the precious grain within their borders.

Additionally, more farmers are switching to exclusively growing corn – creating a monoculture. This is bad news as it pushes up prices of other food crops, but the most unsettling aspects are:

a) More land is being cleared to grow corn
b) Large percentages of corn crops have been wiped out several times in the last 30 years through adverse weather conditions, pestilence or disease.

There’s a really interesting article on the topic of corn on the LA Times site – well worth the time to read.


Biofuels – crime against humanity?
Heirloom and heritage seeds
Corn as a panacea