Fuels vs. food

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Biofuels_vs_food_3 Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle takes on Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer's claim that biofuels will exacerbate world hunger:

Despite the authors' allegations, the facts are clear: U.S. corn is used to feed mostly animals, not people; converting the starch from a portion of the U.S. corn crop into biofuels is an efficient way to reduce the United States' dangerous dependence on imported oil; and the recent firming of grain prices in the United States -- and therefore the world -- will help, not hurt, farmers in food-deficit nations.

Most important, current production facilities for grain-based biofuels are a critical platform for launching the next generation of advanced cellulosic and waste-derived biofuel technologies.

Unfortunately, Runge and Senauer distort the central role that biofuels will play in any such comprehensive solution, both in the United States and abroad. Far from starving the world's poor, as they claim, biofuels can help the world meet its energy needs without jeopardizing food security.

The Minnesota professors respond:

We, too, know that meat-producing animals eat more than half of the U.S. corn crop. But people do eat chicken, eggs, pork, steak; drink milk, and consume foods containing cornmeal, corn oil, and corn sweeteners. […] And the share of the corn crop used to produce ethanol will rise from less than ten percent in 2004 to an expected 20-25 percent of the crop next year. As more acres are devoted to corn, fewer acres are available for other types of dairy feed, such as alfalfa, or for table vegetables, such as green beans. As a result, milk and vegetable prices are rising.

[…] higher grain prices are translating into an increase in the prices of staple foods around the world. For some, this effect could be another way beside trade liberalization to raise the incomes of poor farmers. But the ethanol boom's distorting effects on commodity prices are hardly a substitute for expanded market opportunities for farmers in food-deficit nations. By definition, a food-deficit nation buys more food than it sells and hence is negatively affected by price increases. Most of the three billion people living on less than $2 a day are subsistence farmers with little or no surplus to sell or urban slum dwellers who consume but do not produce food. As consumers, they lose. Higher prices may induce more grain production abroad, but unless wealthy nations agree to import this grain by granting expanded market access to poor producer nations, it will be of no help to them

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