Food Summit Addresses BioFuels

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva Waxes Poetic in Support of Brazil’s Ethanol, Other Delegates Less Creative

CNN begins this article by accurately listing some of the most likely causes of the food crisis:

These include rising energy costs, more demand for meat and dairy products from some booming developing countries, trade restrictions and speculation, as well as the demand for biofuels.

The contention, they say has to do most with to which degree each factor contributes to the rise in food prices, particularly some countries and organizations feel that biofuels make up a rather large portion of the crisis. Yet countries like the Brazil, and to an extent the United States, try to downplay the effect of our current pattern of using food crops for biofuels. This divide is less than shocking as Brazil is arguably the leader in ethanol, and the United States are home to a great deal of corn ethanol subsidies.

Brazil’s president sees things differently. It is the other countries, he insists, that are letting their self-interest cloud their understanding of biofuels:

“It is frightening to see attempts to draw a cause-and-effect relationship between biofuels and the rise of food prices,” said Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. “It offends me to see fingers pointed against clean energy from biofuels, fingers soiled with oil and coal.”

Other countries, somehow unmoved by the beauty of his words, called for biofuels to be approached more carefully, to avoid doing harm to world food supplies. An Oxfam policy advisor went so far as to suggest that 15-30% of the price increases are attributable to the rush for biofuels. Ed Schafer, US Agriculture Secretary, suggested that the number was just 2-3%.

It is remarkable that this late in the game, two sources can disagree so severely over the impact of plant-derived ethanol on the world food supply. It is hard to say for sure that Schafer is wrong, because ethanol is still a young industry, and in the United States it is in its infancy. The fact of the matter is that ethanol derived from food, or ethanol derived from crops grown in place of food will raise food prices. A firm would not produce both food and fuel unless food paid as well as biofuels did, PLUS any subsidies that are currently given to biofuel producers. The most promising option seems to be developing methods which use crops that can be grown places food can’t, such as switchgrass. No matter what, the future of biofuels is unclear, so let this blog echo the sentiment of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda by saying, “we need to ensure that biofuel production is sustainable.”

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One Response

  1. […] being objectionable, and the DoE dealt with everything but corn. At any rate, we’ve already posted information from Oxfam suggesting that as much as 15-30% of food price inflation is due to  the rush to […]

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