CBO Blasts Ethanol

An article published last Thrusday by the Washington Times suggests that federal support for corn ethanol has large negative consequences and a dubious impact on the environment. It seems that the Congressional Budget Office is catching up to the many critics of ethanol (for some of our own criticism of ethanol, feel free to check here). This should be the final nail in the coffin for aggressive corn-based ethanol policies. Continue reading


Food and Climate Change: Part 1

The author attended a two-part lecture series on Food and Climate Change hosted by the Sustainable Food Initiative at Brown University. This is the first of two posts recapping the main points and providing analysis of the lectures.

Cooks Diet For A Dead Planet

Cover of Diet for A Dead Planet

Christopher Cook, journalist and author, gave the first in this two-part series. He called his “Just Food Nation”. Cook, who penned the book Diet For a Dead Planet, asserted that we need “radical change” to our food system.

In addition to the growing climate crisis, Cook also linked problems such as the recent food crisis and the American obesity epidemic to a fundamentally broken food system.

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Oxfam: Biofuels have dragged 30 million people into poverty


What arguments are left for biofuels? A help to a domestic industry at the expense of the world? A small addition to total world energy production? A step towards miracle ethanol that can be made from anything? Oxfam has now refuted a principal argument in favor of “green” fuels.
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Free trade policies claiming Haiti as a victim

After seeing food riots in April, Haiti’s problems are nowhere near being solved. Completely dependent on food imports due to trade liberalization, soil erosion and an increasing population. Mike Williams of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution explored this issue a little deeper.

It’s not completely fair to blame free trade policies for the problems facing Haiti when the country has faced widespread corruption in recent history and has many geographic limitations. Nevertheless, this is the worst case scenario of what can happen to the undeveloped world (it wouldn’t be accurate to classify Haiti as developing) when the markets are open to cheap and subsidized foreign food, causing shortages, and leading to food aid which further undercuts local producers.

Before 1950, Haiti supplied close to 80% of its own food, and exported a large amount of food. Now, much of the population has shifted away from agriculture, unable to compete, and now are unable to afford the rising cost of food. Many are so poor they have resorted to eating dirt. Due to the high cost of fertilizer, foreign competition, and food aid, most farmers have resorted to subsistence farming, leaving much of the country vulnerable. What is the result? A life expectancy under 50 years, high amounts of undernourished people and high infant mortality.

Specialization can lead to many efficiency gains, but specialization away from agriculture is a dangerous game. Food aid will only exacerbate the issue.  The best way to treat this is by governments and NGOs encouraging a return to farming, protecting the domestic industry, aid in development of successful agricultural practices and subsidizing in fertilizer, equipment and tools.  In the meantime, the west needs to look to Haiti before it pushes the developing world into trade liberalization, especially while the governments are acting to distort the market.

Shortly after the Food Summit, Argentina chooses to maintain export taxes on grain


President Cristina Fernandez dug in her heels Monday over contentious grain export tax hikes, rebuffing farmers who are seeking talks to end a three-month standoff that has crippled Argentina’s farm sector

First off, I should recognize Jeannette Neumann’s ever-so-clever method of reminding us Argentina’s President is a woman.

On to the real issue here, Fernandez finally gave plans for the destination of the revenues from export taxes, social programs such as building hospitals, roads and housing. Nevertheless, can we really forget about the great social service that is helping to provide cheap and affordable food to the poor? These taxes discourage farming, reinvestment in lands, and gains to productivity, all in the face of high food prices. The President speaks of redistributing wealth, but must she take from those in control of the nation’s food security?

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. Continue reading

UN to hold Food Summit, Mugabe’s presence “obscene”


The UN Food Summit, organized to develop solutions to the global food crisis brought on by high prices, will kick off on Tuesday in Rome. Whether governments, international institutions, climate change, or a combination of factors are the cause, action must be taken to prevent hundreds of millions from starving. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to propose easing farming taxes, export bans and import tariffs in a package costing $15 billion. He is also expected to target US subsidies aimed at biofuels.
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