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Ethanol Demand Is Boosting Food Prices Worldwide 599

Posted by kdawson
from the may-sound-corny dept.
hereisnowhy writes "The rising demand for corn as a source of ethanol-blended fuel is largely to blame for increasing food costs around the world, the CBC reports. Increased prices for ethanol have already led to bigger grocery bills for the average American — an increase of $47 US compared to July 2006. In Mexico last year, corn tortillas, a crucial source of calories for 50 million poor people, doubled in price; the increase forced the government to introduce price controls. The move to ethanol-blended fuel is based in part on widespread belief that it produces cleaner emissions than regular gasoline. But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel. Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol — whether from corn, beets, wheat, or other crops — requires more energy than can be derived from the product."
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Ethanol Demand Is Boosting Food Prices Worldwide

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  • by toby (759) * on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:13PM (#19227769) Homepage Journal

    George Monbiot wrote [guardian.co.uk] about this 2 months ago in the UK Guardian:

    If we want to save the planet, we need a five-year freeze on biofuels

    Oil produced from plants sets up competition for food between cars and people. People - and the environment - will lose

    George Monbiot
    Tuesday March 27, 2007
    The Guardian

    It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless. In theory, fuels made from plants can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by cars and trucks. Plants absorb carbon as they grow - it is released again when the fuel is burned. By encouraging oil companies to switch from fossil plants to living ones, governments on both sides of the Atlantic claim to be "decarbonising" our transport networks.

    In the budget last week, Gordon Brown announced that he would extend the tax rebate for biofuels until 2010. From next year all suppliers in the UK will have to ensure that 2.5% of the fuel they sell is made from plants - if not, they must pay a penalty of 15p a litre. The obligation rises to 5% in 2010. By 2050, the government hopes that 33% of our fuel will come from crops. Last month George Bush announced that he would quintuple the US target for biofuels: by 2017 they should be supplying 24% of the nation's transport fuel.

    So what's wrong with these programmes? Only that they are a formula for environmental and humanitarian disaster. In 2004 I warned, on these pages, that biofuels would set up a competition for food between cars and people. The people would necessarily lose: those who can afford to drive are richer than those who are in danger of starvation. It would also lead to the destruction of rainforests and other important habitats. I received more abuse than I've had for any other column - except for when I attacked the 9/11 conspiracists. I was told my claims were ridiculous, laughable, impossible. Well in one respect I was wrong. I thought these effects wouldn't materialise for many years. They are happening already.

    Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled. The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that "if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year". According to the UN food and agriculture organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol: the alcohol used for motor fuel, which can be made from maize and wheat.

    Farmers will respond to better prices by planting more, but it is not clear that they can overtake the booming demand for biofuel. Even if they do, they will catch up only by ploughing virgin habitat.

    Already we know that biofuel is worse for the planet than petroleum. The UN has just published a report suggesting that 98% of the natural rainforest in Indonesia will be degraded or gone by 2022. Just five years ago, the same agencies predicted that this wouldn't happen until 2032. But they reckoned without the planting of palm oil to turn into biodiesel for the European market. This is now the main cause of deforestation there and it is likely soon to become responsible for the extinction of the orang-utan in the wild.

    But it gets worse. As the forests are burned, both the trees and the peat they sit on are turned into carbon dioxide. A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or 10 times as much as petroleum produces. I feel I need to say that again. Biodiesel from palm o

    • by reporter (666905) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:38PM (#19228203) Homepage
      The main culprit is corn-based ethanol. The energy consumed to produce a barrel of corn-based ethanol consumes exceeds the energy offered by that barrel [sfgate.com].

      The motivation for corn-based ethanol is political. While Washington advocates "free markets", American politicians of all political persuasions advocate subsidizing the production of corn-based ethanol because American agribusiness nearly owns the government.

      Generally speaking, subsidies cost taxpayers dearly but do not pose a hazard. Corn-based ethanol is an exception. It drives up the price of corn and could lead to severe malnutrition in Mexico and other poor countries which cannot afford higher prices for basic food items. Subsidies for corn-based ethanol could indirectly kill people (via starvation) in the 3rd world.

      Do American politicians care? No. They care only about making American agribusiness happy.

      • by Loke the Dog (1054294) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:27PM (#19229083)
        Maybe I'm wrong, but doesn't most third world countries depend on agriculture products as exports? So if agriculture products become more expensive, the food they buy is more expensive, but they will also have more money with which they can buy the expensive food.

        If a farmer gets 100% of his income from agriculture, and 90% of his expenses are from buying agriculture products, he will still make a bit more profit if the market for agriculture products go up.

        Anyway, this is all pointless, because in the end even the poorest country with the most infertile soil will have enough food for everyone if its a well run democracy that actually has a policy to bring food to everyone. If it isnt, well, then people might starve even if the country has both the money and soil to get food.
        • by Z34107 (925136) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:13PM (#19230787)

          Maybe I'm wrong, but doesn't most third world countries depend on agriculture products as exports? So if agriculture products become more expensive, the food they buy is more expensive, but they will also have more money with which they can buy the expensive food.

          Most third world countries can't export agriculture products because there's no-one to export to. First world countries, (read: the US and EU) have very powerful agriculture lobbyists. Our government subsidizes agriculture production - our farmers can produce the same crop cheaper than the African farmer because the government pays most of his costs. Even if the African farmer could produce a bushel of corn or cotton or whatnot cheaper than a domestic producer, tariffs and quotas prevent him from selling there.

          If food becomes more expensive, the third-world countries are SOL. The vast majority of people in the world (first or third) are not commercial farmers who sell the food they grow, so the price increase benefits very few people.

          In the meantime, starving people have to pay more for the same inadequate rations.

      • It's the Farm Bill (Score:5, Insightful)

        by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @07:06PM (#19229531) Homepage Journal
        The Farm Bill subsidizes 5 commodity products, one of which is corn. This bill has far-reaching consequences, which include starvation of population in Africa (by subsidizing farmers the US competes with the 3rd world countries, who cannot compete at that level with a super-industrialized nation that only needs 1% of its citizens to work as farmers and even then it produces enough food products to feed a quarter of the planet.) Now, should the US politicians care about this or should they only work to make the US farmers happy, that is a different question. I am not a US politician or a US citizen, but I understand why a US politician would rather make a US citizen-farmer happy than think about far-reaching consequences to other countries. Other countries do not vote for this US politician, that's probably the most important point to remember.
      • by asynchronous13 (615600) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @12:07AM (#19231989)
        I'm sick of seeing links related to Paztek's paper. It's junk. Here's a link to the source that several other articles quote from: http://petroleum.berkeley.edu/papers/patzek/CRPS41 6-Patzek-Web.pdf [berkeley.edu] I agree with his bashing of corn production in the US (government subsidies, etc). But on the input side of his energy calculations, he includes: * human energy (labor), * energy for the humans to commute to the field, * energy used to make hybrid seeds, * solar energy that the field receives! Let me reiterate that last one. He adds solar energy, the entire amount of energy in the form of sunlight that fell on the plot of land during the growing season, as an input. That means that photosynthesis is part of his efficiency calculation. He completely discounts the energy that could be gained from the byproducts, and includes energy costs associated with transportation and disposal of the byproducts as if they were waste. Plus, many of the energy inputs he calculates are based on corn destined for human consumption -- many of these inputs would be left out of corn grown for ethanol. He claims that more CO2 is produced by the ethanol cycle than would be produced by burning the equivalent amount of gasoline. BUT, he doesn't discount the CO2 consumed by the corn plants! To be fair, maybe this analysis is complete and accurate. If so, I would like to see the same analysis performed on gasoline -- and please include all the solar energy that went into the biomass that eventually became petroleum, include the energy from heat and pressure from the earth, etc etc. Then one could make a fair comparison.
    • Chomsky has written about it as well

      Published on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 by The International News
      Starving The Poor
      by Noam Chomsky

      The chaos that derives from the so-called international order can be painful if you are on the receiving end of the power that determines that order's structure. Even tortillas come into play in the ungrand scheme of things. Recently, in many regions of Mexico, tortilla prices jumped by more than 50 per cent.

      In January, in Mexico City, tens of thousands of workers and far
  • Corn Syrup (Score:3, Informative)

    by MankyD (567984) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:14PM (#19227797) Homepage
    I've heard that our heavy dependence on corn as an additive (e.g., corn syrup) is one main contributor to the lack of affordable, healthful food options in grocery stores. Might this work to reverse that trend?
    • Re:Corn Syrup (Score:5, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:16PM (#19227813) Homepage Journal
      remove the sugar tariff and then you will see big changes.
      • But then they'd have to open trade with Cuba (sugar cane) and that doesn't get you those sweet, sweet (excuse the pun) FL votes.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Garabito (720521)
          Yes because Cuba is the only producer of sugar cane in the world, right?
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:17PM (#19227833) Journal
    are rejoicing. Not only has the US government mandated the use of corn and corn derived products in just about everything that US consumers use, now their profit margins will soar above whatever they were being subsidized for. Most corn in North America is big business farming, so they are off and running toward all those dollars, no matter how inefficient using corn is for fuels.

    All we have to do now is declare corn growers as reducing global warming, and that every stalk of corn planted saves a child to make the headlong rush toward bio-diesel an unrecoverable flop.
    • Let's not forget... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Radon360 (951529) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:27PM (#19228039)

      ...that most fertilizers and pesticides applied to corn are derived from petroleum bases. Farming equipment also uses diesel/gasoline during the planting, cultivating and harvesting of corn. Adding to this, natural gas and propane are commonly used to run corn dryers used to reduce the moisture content of the harvested corn. At one point in 2005, the cost of the fuel for these dryers was more than the revenue produced from the corn itself, making it a wash to even bring the corn to market.

      Sure, the price of corn is being driven up by its use for ethanol production, but let's not forget that the cost of growing corn has risen sharply as well in recent years, mostly due to the rising price of petroleum based products.

    • by mobby_6kl (668092)
      Those in Iowa certainly are!

      Here's an article from the Economist on Iowa's ethanol economy. [economist.com] The effects are obviously positive on the local scale, with higher profits, more jobs, and increasing land prices as more people try to rush in and get a piece of the subsidy. Still, the same subsidizing policy can easily kill off the whole industry, if the government decides tomorrow that another biofuel is more "in".
  • Food is too cheap (Score:3, Interesting)

    by analog_line (465182) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:19PM (#19227885)
    Farmers have been unable to support themselves by farming because of the insane cheapness of food, and high fructose corn syrup being so cheap is one of the big parts of the obesity epidemic. Anything that raises the price of food means portions will need to be reduced, and farmers will be more likely to be able to support themselves by growing crops.

    I frankly don't give a shit whether the emissions are "cleaner" with ethanol. If it means I'm not forced to shovel money into the pockets of Arab governments, Russia, Venezuela, etc, just to continue to make a living and survive, then I'm all for it.
    • by TrippTDF (513419) <hiland @ g m a il.com> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:24PM (#19227975)
      Anything that raises the price of food means portions will need to be reduced, and farmers will be more likely to be able to support themselves by growing crops.

      In the US, sure, this could possibly lead to smaller portions, but what about people in other countries that don't have enough to eat to begin with? The price of torilla's rising 50% in Mexico doesn't mean "smaller portions" it means NO portions.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by iknownuttin (1099999)
        In the US, sure, this could possibly lead to smaller portions, but what about people in other countries that don't have enough to eat to begin with? The price of torilla's rising 50% in Mexico doesn't mean "smaller portions" it means NO portions.

        Ask yourself, "Why is the price so high?"

        In EVERY case of people starving on this Planet in this day and age is because of failed states. Period. Africa's food problems? Just look at their governments and how they appropriate food for their armies and buddies of th

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Lars T. (470328)

          In the US, sure, this could possibly lead to smaller portions, but what about people in other countries that don't have enough to eat to begin with? The price of torilla's rising 50% in Mexico doesn't mean "smaller portions" it means NO portions.

          Ask yourself, "Why is the price so high?"

          In EVERY case of people starving on this Planet in this day and age is because of failed states. Period. Africa's food problems? Just look at their governments and how they appropriate food for their armies and buddies of the "President" (read Dictator). Sorry, the only food and starvation problems today are Government made. And no, I DO NOT mean some "evil corporation in their corporation offices being all corporaty" causing the problem. That reason is a smokescreen.

          But in this case the failed state is the USA, having flooded Mexico with subsidized corn, killing off any chance of local farmers making a living, and then paying even more for the corn to make "bio-fuel".

    • Farmers are also bound more and more in the US to a handful of mega food processors that set the price paid for crops. Here in the northeast dairy farmers get a tiny fraction of the cost of milk (which is very high) because there are only a few milk processors here that they can't avoid.

      BTW, you are also "shoveling money" into Nigeria and Norway.
      • Those were implied in the "etc" but sure. Nigeria isn't exactly a shining beacon of wonderfulness. And Norway is pretty harmless, but I don't particularly like having to give them money so I can get to work/heat my home either.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MonorailCat (1104823)
      This isn't about the price of food in the first world, its about the stress this will inevitably place on the third world. People will starve and die because of a flawed concept being forced down our throats by politics and greed.
    • by Sciros (986030)
      Yeah, I'm sure the "food is too cheap" argument will go over REAL well with those who barely earn enough to put it on the table for their families. Let alone those who don't earn enough.

      Is this a good time to use the "insensitive clod" phrase? :-P
    • Food is too cheap (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Colin Smith (2679)
      Food is too cheap because farmers get big subsidies.

       
  • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:20PM (#19227891) Journal
    They should make ethanol from unhealthy foods instead, like Twinkies, eclairs, or Jolly Ranchers. I find my car runs on the watermelon flavor the best.
    • Re:Use Other Foods (Score:5, Informative)

      by AKAImBatman (238306) * <<akaimbatman> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:35PM (#19228151) Homepage Journal
      You're partially correct. Much greater fuel-alcohol production can be realized from Cane Sugar and Sugar Beets than from corn. The only reason why the ethanol crowd is so focused on corn is because America has a lot of it. Hawaii produces a great deal of cane sugar, but it pales in comparison to corn production. And sugar beet production is entirely focused on sugar. Still, both plants are useful for creating butanol [wikipedia.org], an alcohol with properties and energy densities much closer to gasoline than ethanol.
  • Energy? Huh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:20PM (#19227905)
    But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel. Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol -- whether from corn, beets, wheat, or other crops -- requires more energy than can be derived from the product.

    Who cares if it requires more energy or not? If the greenhouse emissions are equivalent, then it comes down to which is cheaper. If ethanol is less or the same cost as gasoline at the pump, then I want ethanol. I might even pay a little MORE because it gets OPEC's huge cock out of my ass. The US is one of the largest corn producers in the world. If we can make our own alcohol fuels domestically then we should pursue that.
    • >I might even pay a little MORE because it gets OPEC's huge cock out of my ass.

      I wish I could give you all my mod points for life. :)
    • It doesn't entirely take OPEC out of the equation. One problem is that the production of corn is tied to the production of petroleum and other fossil fuels. Fertilizer comes from nitrogen and the energy to create the nitrogen comes from petroleum.

      This is because the farm is no longer a nice little circle of self perpetuation. There are no livestock eating the vegetation waste, producing manure to fertilize the crops. The livestock has been shipped to a feedlot (where it's manure is basically toxic and unusa
    • by woolio (927141)
      Who cares if it requires more energy or not? If the greenhouse emissions are equivalent, then it comes down to which is cheaper.

      Well, energy is going to be scarce in the future, right? In the recent past, energy prices were almost equal regardless of medium (cost of 1 gal of gasoline was nearly the same as the equivalent energy in electricity).

      The whole point of getting stuff from the ground is that we can do it cheaply in the sense that we get more energy out of the material than we spend extracting/pro
  • Green? Who cares? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by maillemaker (924053) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:20PM (#19227907)
    Look, I don't give a wet fart how green the fuel that makes my car goes is. The simple fact is, the mere act of existing has negative consequences on something. So I don't really care if my car is "green" or not.

    All I want is the cheapest fuel possible. At the very least, I don't want to be tied to a single source for the fuel. Especially the Middle East.

    The day oil ceases to be a major fuel source is the day the whole Middle East dries up like a popcorn fart and blows away in the wind of irrelevance.

    I hope to not have to buy a car again for another five years. When the time comes, though, I won't consider any car that doesn't get at least 60 MPG. Hopefully it will be electric instead. Give me a SmartCar that is pluggable, does 100 miles at 70 MPH between overnight charges, and I'm there.
    • by Sciros (986030)
      Save some on fuel, spend more on groceries. Great deal if all you're concerned about is OPEC's "cock" but some people can't afford to spend more on groceries and use public transportation. You and I might live in an area with a car:person ratio of 1, but cities like NYC have A LOT (millions) of people who don't.
  • Classic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ErikTheRed (162431) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:23PM (#19227949) Homepage
    Well, that's what we get for letting hysteria and politics shout down environmental science. And many of the more strident environmental groups have no one but themselves to blame - they embraced the politics and hysteria because (in the short term) it furthered their agendas. Politicians and the corporations (including big agriculture) that bribe^H^H^H^H^H contribute heavily to their campaigns are far from stupid, however, and will twist things to their advantage. The corporations make money and "be green", and the politicians can sucker voters by "being green" and both laugh all the way to the bank. My favorite one was how DuPont got all green over Freon - because they owned the patents on non-CFC-based refrigerants that would replace it. Nice of "t3h world is going to end!!!1!!" crowd to get the government to force everyone to replace their patent-expired Freon with something much more profitable [dupont.com], never mind that this raised the cost of refrigeration and decreased the quality of food supplies in poorer countries.

    In the long run, the most outspoken members cause the rest of the environmentalist community lose credibility (because the world doesn't end), and the politicians will just look for the next sucker cause to exploit. Too bad for the environment.
    • The big donors to US political parties are not corporations. They are unions. Auto workers, trial lawyers, and teacher unions all contribute more than big oil, big pharma, or all of your other bogey men. Even more damning to your argument is the fact that corporate contributions are actually fairly evenly split among the two parties, while union donations favor one party at around 10:1 a ratio (I am sure you can guess which party this is, and now understand why they are beholden to special interests).
      • by Gizzmonic (412910) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:48PM (#19228417) Homepage Journal
        The big donors to US political parties are not corporations. They are unions.

        The US is controlled by UNIONS! Unions demanded the war in Iraq in order to produce more jobs with living wages! Unions required that we borrow trillions from China as a display of worker solidarity! Those in unions want to see jobs outsourced to India so we can have time to spend with our family during the week!

        That's right folks, our country is run by a bunch of unions.
  • A study released in May from Iowa State University shows increased prices for ethanol have already led to bigger grocery bills for the average American -- an increase of $47 US compared to July 2006.

    If I'm not mistaken, that means $47 per year. Which really isn't that bad when you notice the price of gasoline lately.

    The move is based in part on wide-spread belief that ethanol-blended fuel produces cleaner emissions than regular gasoline.

    Ethanol is not really chosen for its environmental friendliness. The environmental models I know of are based on the fact that the increased crop production produces a greater number of carbon sinks. Increases in carbon sinks won't show up in the EPA testing.

    The real reason for choosing ethanol is its availability. It's easy to come by and is currently cheaper than gasoline. The US also has a great deal of surplus farming capacity from which to draw greater yields. (Though folks generally argue about how much surplus capacity there is, and how much can be brought online before food production is seriously impacted.)

    Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol -- whether from corn, beets, wheat or other crops -- takes more energy than is derived from the product.

    Actually, that comes from the US Government's ethanol studies done in the 1970s. Dr. David Pimentel headed up those original studies. Since then, technology has improved and the US Government's studies have shown it to be energy positive. However, Dr. Pimentel has continued to rely on the outdated figures in attempts to discredit the newer findings. So the ethanol community is in a bit of a flux, with Pimentel rallying his forces against the idea that ethanol is a sustainable energy source.
  • Oh, come on! (Score:4, Informative)

    by PHAEDRU5 (213667) <instascreed@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:25PM (#19227981) Homepage
    The second and thord paragraphs of the article:

    Food prices rose 10 per cent in 2006, "driven mainly by surging prices of corn, wheat and soybean oil in the second part of the year," the International Monetary Fund said in a report.

    "Looking ahead, rising demand for biofuels will likely cause the prices of corn and soybean oil to rise further," the authors wrote in the report released last month.
    Food prices rose in 2006, for basic reasons left unspecified. The prices may continue to rise, for a reason that is pure speculation.

    But yeah, it's all about biofuels.
  • In Mexico last year, corn tortillas, a crucial source of calories for 50 million poor people, doubled in price; the increase forced the government to introduce price controls.

    Price controls, while always a popular move, seldom work. Mexico, for a place with so much promise, is such a disaster economically that millions of people risk their lives to leave for completely non-war related reasons. I wouldn't use them as an example of anything that applies to the rest of the world.

    The move to ethanol-blen

    • by Otter (3800)
      Does this take into account the air that is "cleaned" by the growing of the plants used in the first place, minus any downside effects in the refining process as compared to gasoline? I suspect not. The conclusions are too simplistic for a true model here.

      I don't know about that study, but biofuel advocates do make that argument. The problem is that it breaks down if you clear, for example, Amazon rainforest to grow sugar cane for ethanol. Which is usually the case, since productive sites for agriculture a

  • Gee, what a shock. To me, this is just an example of how we can't use biofuel stupidly, specifically we should not be using corn oil. Corn is a food staple, it is foolish to tie that together with transportation, at least at this level. If we can't just take the excess corn that our government pays farmers to make and then leave to rot in piles, then it isn't worth it.

    Now the thing about emissions, that's kinda not the point. Burning the fuel may not be particularly cleaner (get it, particle... n/m) but
  • by stu42j (304634) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:29PM (#19228051) Homepage
    Ethanol is added to gasoline to reduce carbon monoxide emissions and ground-level ozone as an alternative to MTBE. Greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) have nothing to do with it.
  • The reality is that the radical environmentalists are right: the worlds population needs to be reduced to 1 billion souls. The remaining 5 billion along with the livestock and industrial infrastructure needed to keep them going need to vanish.

    IMO, biofuels are just one way that environmentalists want to cull the herd.

    Now that I have gotten that conspiracy theory off my chest, green friends have told me that bio-fuels are carbon neutral because they do not add any net new carbon to the cycle, but they do acc
  • I call BS! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ElForesto (763160) <elforesto@gmai l . c om> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:33PM (#19228107) Homepage
    Corn shortage my eye. The reason corn is a prime target for ethanol production is because, nationally, we grow far more corn than we need. You can thank farm subsidies for that little gem. Because it's all subsidized, corn is dirt cheap compared to a lot of other crops which is a major factor in using corn syrup instead of cane sugar in a lot of foodstuffs. The NY Times recently had an article [nytimes.com] (registration or BugMeNot required) on the egregious farm subsidies and how they make junk food artificially cheap to buy. Some highlights:
    • The cost of fresh produce increased in price in terms of real dollars by over 40% between 1985 and 2000 whereas soft drinks using corn syrup declined in cost by 23%.
    • A dollar buys you 1200 calories of cookies or chips but just 250 calories worth of carrots.
    • The top subsidies are for corn, rice, wheat, soybeans and cotton. There often translate into cheap meats and dairy as most of this gets reused as animal foodstuffs.
    • Most estimates are that subsidized US corn has displaced over 2 million Mexican farmers who move north to get jobs.
    Blaming ethanol production for these ills is just plain stupid. Follow the money of the farm bills for real answers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DrEldarion (114072)

      A dollar buys you 1200 calories of cookies or chips but just 250 calories worth of carrots.
      What does this prove? 250 calories of carrots is a huge amount of carrots, where 1200 calories of cookies is less than one bag.

      BIG NEWS! $1 gets you only 2 calories of iceberg lettuce, where it gets you 4000 calories of corn oil!
    • It's not all one-sided. There are valid reason for subsidizing food. Most importantly, unlike other markets where you want the supply and demand curves to intersect, you don't want that with agriculture. You want to insure that your supply curve is higher than what's needed to meet demand. The reason is pretty simple - there's a lot of uncertainty in agriculture. One year you'll have a bumper crop. Next year, a cold spell may wipe out half the crop. If you lose half the crop, you don't want people st
  • Weren't these the same environmentalists that have been telling us for years to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels? Were they right then? Or are they right now?

    Or are most prominent environmentalists simply argumentative to the point where they will contradict themselves for the sake of opposing the inexorable progress of technology and industry?

    I've long since dismissed the environmentalist movement for exactly this kind of thing. No matter what we to do try to placate them, we will be wrong. Givin
  • One of the consequences of diverting corn production to biofuels, and of the subsidies reaped by American farmers, is that the price of corn is skyrocketing in Mexico. And it's driving a lot of starving Mexicans to sneak into the States to eke out a living.

    Can't blame them; they're only starving, ferchrissakes. In the meantime, we also have sugar tariffs and subsidies that prohibit a far more efficient crop for use in biofuels.

    So, the next time some idiot farmer in Iowa spouts about illegal aliens to

    • by iggymanz (596061)
      dumping by the U.S. of corn into the Mexican market was the main source of contention in the past by Mexican peasants. Mexico's demand has outpaced its own internal supply. if U.S. corn is too expensive for them, let them grow their own
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Distan (122159)
      Are you saying there is some way to use illegal aliens as fuel? Please elaborate.

      I was well aware of using them as tires, but they keep puncturing a lung and going flat.
  • I am afraid that this is but one of many problems that the "solutions" to so called man made global warming will spawn. It's surprising to me that anyone is surprised at this outcome. Price controls will only exacerbate the problem.

    These "solutions" will make a grand total of zero impact on anything, aside from providing an excuse for everyone to meddle in everyone else's business. I can't wait for the CFL inspector to come knocking on my door to make sure that I don't harbor any illegal standard light

  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:39PM (#19228237)
    The move to ethanol-blended fuel is based in part on widespread belief that it produces cleaner emissions than regular gasoline. But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel.



    Do they need to buy a fscking clue ? Of course there's no difference. The combustion products of ethanol are pretty much the same as those of gasoline. Why do they need to do a fscking study about something that's covered in Organic Chemistry 101 ?

  • I hope that nobody is surprised by this. It is simple supply and demand. Since the ethanol craze is creating a huge demand the price is going to go up. Corn farmers can demand a much higher price in return and they are getting it.

    This was predicted years ago on the basis of simple economics. It is going to put a larger gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', as those without money are going to have a much harder time finding food.

    This isn't going to affect just tortillas. Corn is used to feed livestock
  • Ruined ecosystem, oxygen-blocking tanker spills, infusing US dollars into countries that support terrorists. In principal, ethanol and other biofuel can be produced using bull-mounted plows and manure as fertilizers, from plants that are not viable as food crops and are hardier and easier on the land than regular agriculture. We don't have to replace all fuel with ethanol to reduce net CO2 emissions. Just because agriculture can not supply ALL our energy or because a particular implementation is flawed does
  • The rising demand for corn as a source of ethanol-blended fuel is largely to blame for increasing food costs around the world

    Really, are you sure that it isn't due to the rising cost of energy? It costs money to run farm equipment, and to transport the stuff. Or is it just due to inflation?

    Statistics Canada says consumers in the country paid 3.8 per cent more for food in April 2007, compared to the same month last year.

    I believe that core inflation (excluding energy) in Canada [bankofcanada.ca] is 2.5%. The price of energ

  • by SydShamino (547793) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:43PM (#19228295)
    But a recent Environment Canada study found no statistical difference between the greenhouse gas emissions of regular unleaded fuel and 10 per cent ethanol-blended fuel.

    No shit. Ethanol releases carbon dioxide while it burns, too. However, its carbon dioxide was already in the atmosphere, absorbed by the plants, then released again when burnt. That makes it carbon neutral*, even though the emissions are the same.

    Or, did they mean to take that into account? Who knows, the article is incomplete or misleading.

    * I'm talking about the carbon in the plant, not carbon used in production. That's next.

    Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol -- whether from corn, beets, wheat or other crops -- takes more energy than is derived from the product.

    No shit. Unless it violates certain laws of thermodynamics, of course the energy derived is less than the energy required to produce. But they don't talk about where that energy comes from. Maybe it's all from the sun, or from other renewal resources. Do they mean that the same amount of net fossil-fuel based carbon is released? Who knows, the article is incomplete or misleading.

    Re: Food prices

    The US subsidizes farmers who grow corn, because corn prices have been historically too low to support production. Now, corn prices are higher, and we're complaining about what it does to food costs? How about we take away the subsidies - clearly no longer needed - and give the money to food programs. Then, we look into the side effects of corn being the majority of all American's diets. See some of the repercussions in the recent documentary King Corn. [kingcorn.net] Maybe we could find something else that could substitute for corn in some foods. Like, say, sugar, if we'd remove our tariffs. (Hey, if folks from other countries could sell their sugar to the US for food, they'd have more money to buy our more-expensive corn.) Then, maybe we could find something better than corn to use for ethanol. Like, say, hemp or switchgrass. I'm sure if corn gets too expensive, some entrepreneur out there will start looking for alternatives.

    But all of that would be constructive work toward making our planet a better place. It's far better to rant and rave and use single points of change as excuses to throw up our hands and give up.
  • zero sum game? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Orp (6583) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:57PM (#19228587) Homepage
    Environmental groups have argued that producing ethanol -- whether from corn, beets, wheat, or other crops -- requires more energy than can be derived from the product.

    News Flash: Environmental groups argue for the second law of thermodynamics!

    Really... the whole reason fossil fuels are so compelling is the energy that went into making them was used eons ago. Ethanol requires resources *now*. The big advantage of ethanol (from a climate change standpoint) is it's a zero-sum game with regards to carbon dioxide emissions. We're not taking concentrated carbon from millions of years ago and turning it into an atmospheric gas, we're using plant material that was created, in part, from recently utilized atmospheric CO2.

    In my opinion, feeding people now trumps using a fuel source which consumes enormous resources. Let's also not forget irrigation - our aquifers are being depleted faster than then can get restored. I doubt California is going to embrace growing corn, which can require large amounts of irrigation, for ethanol when they are running out of drinking water.

  • by sycomonkey (666153) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:57PM (#19228591) Homepage
    The sooner cars go electric and we can consolidate our energy sources at the power plant, the better, because it's much easier to make a power plant clean, than to make an internal combustion engine clean. The only thing holding us back is the pitiful state of the Battery. If we spent half the money on battery research that we did trying to make cars run on food, we'd be running silent, emissionless cars before we even ran out of oil.
  • by RingDev (879105) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:57PM (#19228593) Homepage Journal
    The gateway for most countries to get out of the third-world-nation status is agriculture. The problem though is that the US government subsidizes US farmers so heavily that we are keeping the world market prices artificially low. If the ethanol demand increases crop values, the market will demand more crops and more poor farmers out side the US will suddenly have a profitable profession, spreading wealth, profit and MORE FOOD.

    Either that, or we're gonna kill a lot of people.

    only time will tell.

    -Rick
  • six inches, baby... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Gooseygoose (722201) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:19PM (#19228983)
    As a Pennsylvania farmer put it to me in February: "It looks like we're going to burn up the last remaining six inches of Midwest topsoil in our gas-tanks." I *heart* Jim Kunstler. Here's a link to his piece on ethanol, etc. [typepad.com].
  • by CPE1704TKS (995414) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:28PM (#19229103)
    If corn prices doubled, then more farmers will plant corn, and it will cause the price of corn to drop. I'm sure at some point there will be a crisis where too much corn is produced, which will cause a plummet of corn prices and another "corn crisis", and less farmers will plant corn, cycle repeats, etc. It will all work itself out.

    BTW, ethanol is not added to make emissions cleaner, it was added to replace MTBE. It's a widely held misnomer that it was added to decrease emissions or whatnot.
    • by happyfrogcow (708359) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:41PM (#19229233)
      If corn prices doubled, then more farmers will plant corn, and it will cause the price of corn to drop. I'm sure at some point there will be a crisis where too much corn is produced, which will cause a plummet of corn prices and another "corn crisis", and less farmers will plant corn, cycle repeats, etc. It will all work itself out.

      First, capitalism needs to come into play. Right now, farmers grow as much corn as physically possible knowing that the government will buy it at a set rate, regardless of what the commodity price is.

      The government needs to remove it's hand from this one and let the real market forces go to work.
  • by SCHecklerX (229973) <thecaptain@captaincodo.net> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:54PM (#19229397) Homepage
    Perhaps food companies should stop putting that crap in everything that they make. Just a thought. 2 birds with one stone. Obesity problems are likely to go down too.
  • by i8-p (951301) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @07:55PM (#19230135)
    The change in prices in Canada, according to the article, was 3.8% year-on-year. Inflation, per the Bank of Canada, is 2.0%. That is a world-wide increase in prices? Inflation aside, the impact of transportation fuel prices on bringing food to the grocery store can easily account for that increase.

    As for Mexico, how many ethanol plants are there in Mexico, a country that produces 3.5 mm bbl/day of oil and consumes 2.0 mm bbl/day of oil products (source: April IEA OMR)? Not that many. So why the impact in Mexico? It's because the US used to grow so much corn that we couldn't use that we dumped it on the Mexican market, lowering their cost of corn, and taking some of their producers out of the market. The sudden increase in ethanol production due to oil product price increases has sucked up this additional supply, and now those producers will come back into the market.

    Yes, it sucks that Mexican consumers were hit with such a swing this year, but it's due more to NAFTA than anything else. So if you want to get your knickers in a twist about something (which I don't advise), blame free trade and the natural delay in the supply/demand feedback loop. But note how there weren't a bunch of articles when the price of tortillas went down after the implementation of NAFTA.
  • by ThiagoHP (910442) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @08:09PM (#19230255)
    . . . at least for the article writer:

    The rising demand for corn as a source of ethanol-blended fuel is largely to blame for increasing food costs around the world, and Canada is not immune, say industry experts.

    Not all countries extract ethanol from corn. Nobody does that in Brazil. All ethanol here is made from sugar cane, which has a higher production rate than corn. And, here in Brazil, the use of ethanol never made any influence on the cost of food, just a little bit on alcoholic beverages. :)

    There are a lot of cars here running on ethanol since the 70s. In 1986, more than 76% of all cars sold ran on ethanol. For a long time already, all gasoline sold here has 25% of ethanol. Many of the cars sold in Brazil now are flexible-fuel [wikipedia.org]: they can run on any mixture of gasoline and ethanol. They are a huge selling hit. All all gasoline stations in Brazil sell both gasoline and ethanol

    More information about ethanol in Brazil can be found at Wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

  • Corn? 10%? (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheRedDon (68552) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @08:16PM (#19230321)
    We can produce far more ethanol from sugar, switchgrass, and hemp. We need to re-organize our national priorities to explore these crops and keep corn as food, not as fuel. Sorry corn lobby. When you use E85 the difference in emissions in undeniable. Who cares about E10. Its time to do what Brazil has already done and get off Gas, and jump on a fuel we can create domestically and sustain a healthier world.
  • by quantaman (517394) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @10:21PM (#19231331)
    Most experts agree that corn ethanol isn't really useful as an enviromentally friendly fuel, but could there be a use for it in building a buffer into the food production system. Right now farms are heavily subsidized, in part to make sure that there is an oversupply of food incase of drought or other stresses on the food supply.

    However, what if instead of subsidizing farms to achieve excess food production we instead burn 10-15% of the food supply as ethanol? If there ever is a serious stress put on the food supply there's now a big buffer built into the system. Of course this additional buffer may not be necessary as there's already a buffer in place with food that's currently used to feed livestock (I don't know how much extra food we get if we start eating all this food ourselves though).
  • by TheGreatHegemon (956058) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @10:30PM (#19231387)
    The amount of problems with ethanol are staggering. The raised food prises, the fact that we practically pollute more MAKING ethanol than any environment savings (Which, apparently, seem to be nonexistent). Beyond this, it's near impossible to make enough ethanol to support the U.S...
    Biodiesel, on the other hand, can be made with nearly ANYTHING and nearly ANYWHERE. Human waste? We can make biodiesel out of it (There was even a slashdot article about that). Used frying oil? We can make biodiesel? Algae, grown in swampy areas unfit for farming? We can use it. The catches are seriously minor too. For the U.S., the big issue is a lack of acceptance of Diesel as a whole. Secondly, colder climates could have problems with it, due to it solidifying. The second one may be an issue if you life in ice cold weather, but as a whole, it seems FAR more promising than Ethanol (And, it seems that Europe has pretty good Biodiesel penetration, too). The U.S. needs to give up on the ethanol dream.

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