Food Crisis vs. Renewable Energy

José Graziano Da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He says the world faces a global food crisis brought on by a combination of heat and drought in the U.S. Midwest in 2012.

Da Silva is so concerned that he penned an editorial in London’s Financial Times last Thursday calling on the United States to suspend U.S. government mandated ethanol biofuel production:
The US must take biofuel action to prevent a food crisis
– José Graziano Da Silva, FT, 8/9/201

On Friday the governors of Maryland and Delaware agreed with the United Nations. They called on President Obama for relief from the requirement to use corn-ethanol in gasoline. They said the grain is needed to feed livestock and people.

In his weekly address on Saturday, President Obama made a strong call-to-arms appeal in response to the situation in the Midwest:
All-Hands-On-Deck Response to Drought
– President Barack Obama, Weekly Address, 8/11/2012

The President did not say anything about changing the government’s corn-ethanol biofuel mandate. It wasn’t even mentioned.

And therein lies the rub!

Corn, Food and Biofuels

The United States Midwest is the world’s breadbasket for corn production. According to the U.S. EPA, the United States produces over 43% of the world’s corn. 25% of the nation’s harvested crop acreage is devoted to corn.

Also according to the EPA, the National Corn Growers Association says, “About 12% of the U.S. corn crop ends up in foods that are either consumed directly or indirectly.”

Recognizing the depth of the drought crisis and the impact on food production, the President said this in his weekly address:

Right now, half of the corn crop in America is in poor or very poor condition… if we don’t get relief soon, Americans everywhere will start feeling the pinch, with higher prices on grocery store shelves all across the country
– President Obama, Weekly Address, 8/11/2012

The President as easily could say there would be higher prices globally. That is Da Silva’s concern.

This is astounding:
By federal mandate, 40% of all corn grown in the United States gets burned up in your car’s gas tank and only 12% gets to grocery store shelves!!

With the potential loss of 50% of this year’s corn crop we cannot afford to require virtually all the surviving corn be used to fill an arbitrary federal mandate to meet a clean air, renewable energy initiative.

That is Da Silva’s point in his Financial Times editorial. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The Global Warming Conundrum

It is the ultimate irony that the loss of this year’s corn crop is being blamed on global warming.

The United Nations is fighting warming through it’s IPCC arm and the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto is a global agreement backed by international law that mandates reduction of CO2 emissions said to cause rising global temperatures.

Yet the United Nations recognizes that Kyoto is not etched in stone. In fact, it has delayed its own Kyoto CO2 mandates two times already.

Da Silva clearly recognizes that renewable energy mandates are less important than higher food costs that affect the poorest countries most. That is why he is asking the U.S. to temporarily suspend its biofuel mandate.


Reuter’s today reports President Obama is on the campaign trail in Iowa to announce $170 million in drought relief for farmers through food purchases. No mention of the biofuel mandate.

President Obama said nothing about suspending the federal mandate in his weekly address. He could easily do so with a simple Presidential Directive implemented immediately.

The question is, will he?

The federal biofuel mandate is a renewable energy initiative to reduce dependence on foreign oil and to produce cleaner automotive emissions that fight global warming.

Instead, in his weekly address the President called on passage of a farm bill he is pushing in Iowa today that helps desperate farmers, but does nothing to help the global food situation.

That is, unless these specific proposals from his address could do it:

  • Open more federal land for grazing
  • Give farmers a short grace period to pay insurance premiums
  • Spend $30 million to get water to livestock

That ain’t gonna cut the mustard. No way. No how. Especially not for the rest of the world.

Unless the President temporarily suspends the federal mandate for biofuels to allow some or all of the remain corn crop to be diverted to food production then, as Da Silva says, there may  be a global food crisis.

What will the President chose? Will he temporarily suspend the corn-ethanol mandate to avoid a food crisis, or will he stubbornly cling to his green energy policies?

The answer to these questions should interest American voters come November.


About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!

Posted on Aug 13, 2012, in 2012 Elections, culture, economics, energy policy, Global Warming, Life, news, Opinion, Politics, Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. It is a rare day whI agree with anything that comes out of the UN. But food for fuel is stupid and it has always been stupid. Even Al Gore thinks the ethanol program should be dropped. Don¡t bet on Obama a moratorium on the ethanol program. He’s hoping to win Iowa in November.

    • Dropping or not dropping the ethanol mandate shouldn’t affect Iowa farmers one iota.

      Farmers care less about where the remaining corn goes than they do about having their crops virtually wiped out in the first place.

      It is food consumers in the rest of the world that care most about that.

  2. Great post. I agree with you that the ethanol subsidy needs to go. The previous commenter is right about the reason why no one will talk about this issue: the election. From the polls that I have seen Iowa is in play and a few percent one way or the other could cost Obama or Romney a victory. This is one of the side effects of our electoral college system. An important state has a pet issue so it become a priority and candidates will pander to it.

    Growing corn for ethanol is more profitable that selling corn for food. If the mandate is dropped gasoline companies, who are required to mix ethical with their fuel, may buy less corn from the farmers. This will hurt the farmers profit.

  3. Another possible solution to lower food prices would be to prohibit Farmer’s from feeding corn to livestock. In the US livestock consume more corn than people. Corn is fed to animals like cows because it makes then fatter. By forbidding livestock from being fed corn (which is unnecessary since cows normally eat grass anyway) more food can be made available for human consumption. Yes this will raise the cost of meat. But pound for pound, acre for acre vegetable can feed vastly more people than meat. Plus since most people in the world eat relatively little amounts of meat, the best policy seems to be to save all the corn for human consumption: no ethanol, no livestock feed. Again this affects the farmers bottom line, and probably will never happen.

    • This issue is not as big as the crash of 2008, but is one of those untimely events that might force some attention from farmers who desperately need silage and maize for stock. If Obama gets through his bus tour and squelches any serious public complaints then he is probably home free through November.

      Americans could care less about whether or not the rest of the world starves as long as we have enough to eat and food costs don’t spike. 😦

      The damage is done to farmer’s bottom line already. Those whose crops were not destroyed are gonna make out like bandits with this year’s high prices.

      It is how this bad crop affects what they can do for next year, particularly among livestock breeders, that matters most to many.

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