Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Corn: How can one food lead to both obesity and starvation?

Corn: it makes us fat, makes our cows sick, degrades our land and now it is causing a food crisis. How can one crop cause both obesity and starvation? Can a plant be evil?

Well, as we all know, and as I wrote about in my "King Corn" post, corn is the basic building block of most of our food. But with mountains of corn, all that processed food and high fructose corn syrup, how can there be global a food crisis? Think about this, there are people RIOTING in the streets because there is not enough food to eat!

Due to the poorly conceived energy policies of the United States and European Union a tremendous amount of corn is being converted to biofuels (think ethanol). The acreage being used to grow fuel corn is contributing to the explosive rise in global food prices.  Many farmers are growing corn for your gas tank and not your belly.

Yesterday the United Nations said that fuel policies pursued by the U.S. and the EU were one of the main causes of the current worldwide food crisis. So now, not only are we fighting for oil in Iraq, but Iowa isn't feeding us anymore, its feeding Ford's, Chevy's and Toyota's.

Jean Ziegler of Switzerland, UN special rapporteur on the right to food and a professor of sociology at the University of Geneva and at the Sorbonne in Paris, said "that last year the United States used a third of its corn crop to create biofuels, while the European Union is planning to have 10 percent of its petrol supplied by biofuels."  To me, that's both pretty amazing and scary.  Thirty-three percent of all the corn grown in the US is going to run our cars.

When speaking with Voice of America, Greg Barrow of the UN's World Food Program stated, "There is a perfect storm that has emerged over this issue [due to] a combination of factors - high fuel prices, high food commodity prices driven by the growth of economies in China and India. Then this phenomenon of biofuels production, where fields that were once used to produce grain for human consumption are now producing grain for fuel."

Food prices have risen dramatically in the last year and we are already seeing a food crisis in Haiti, Cameroon, Egypt, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Bangladesh and the Philippines. And American's are not immune to the crisis.  Both Costco and Sam's Club have begun rationing sales of rice allowing a maximum of two to four institutional-size bags per customer, depending on supply. 

When speaking with the Washington Post, Bruce Babcock, a professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University said "If you didn't have ethanol, you would not have the prices we have today. It doesn't mean it's the sole driver. Prices would be higher than we saw earlier in this decade because world grain supplies are tighter now than earlier in the decade. But we've introduced a new demand into the market."  And the astounding thing is, ethanol is not an efficient source of fuel and might be exacerbating global warming. 

According to the Associated Press, even President Bush-- that well knowing environmentalist--said biofuel is responsible for about 15 percent of the rise of food prices. However the U.S. Department of Agriculture believes it to be more around 20 percent. And the International Food Policy Research Institute and Ziegler says it is 30 percent. Leave it to Bush to underestimate a crisis.

Then of course there is the biofuel industry that says that biofuels have only brought food prices up 4 percent. But who are they kidding. It is in their best interest to keep the corn flowing to their chemical vats, and the fuels flowing to our cars.

Check out the Associated Press photo above of a pump at an Ohio Department of Agriculture fuel station in 2006 that is 85% ethanol and 15% petroleum. Currently gasoline contains up to 10% ethanol. If the biofuel industry had it their way all our pumps would look like the one in the photo.

Ziegler and other international scientist have called for a moratorium on the production of biofuels. But of course Bush believes the opposite. Good thing he is a lame duck!

What do you think?

(pump image by Kiichiro Sato, AP)

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