Friday, August 10, 2012


Diversion of valuable food materials that can quench the hunger of millions of people for non-food purpose is nothing but a crime against humanity and this is what is going on in a supposed to be "civilized" country like the US. It is understandable that renewable energy is a priority for the whole world because fossil fuels cannot last for ever and world cannot sustain itself without energy with every human endeavor anchored to energy use. While energy from solar, wind, geothermal, wave and other sources is being tapped with increasing efficiency, there is one area where man is doing harm to himself by using food materials like corn soybean, sugarcane and Palm oil for converting into automobile fuels to extend the supply of fossil fuels. It is understandable if there is a vast surplus production of food that needs to be utilized without wasting them but the present situation indicates that world is short of foods unable to feed millions of people in Africa, Asia and South America. As the North American drought is spreading across the continent mercilessly, the corn and soybean production is plummeting causing world wide concerns regarding its impact on food prices. It is here that the US, a major producer of corn in the world  has to show its statesmanship and magnanimity by temporarily suspending its "corn for ethanol" policy at least for two years. Here is a commentary on this issue with which many dispassionate observers agree.  

"More than one-third of our corn crop is used to feed livestock. Another 13 percent is exported, much of it to feed livestock as well. Another 40 percent is used to produce ethanol. The remainder goes toward food and beverage production. Previous droughts in the Midwest (most recently in 1988) also resulted in higher food prices, but misguided energy policies are magnifying the effects of the current one. Federal renewable-fuel standards require the blending of 13.2 billion gallons of corn ethanol with gasoline this year. This will require 4.7 billion bushels of corn, 40 percent of this year's crop. Other countries seem to have a better grasp of market forces and common sense. Brazil, another large ethanol producer, uses sugar instead of corn to make ethanol. It has flexible policies that allow the market to determine whether sugar should be sold on the sugar market or be converted to fuel. Our government could learn from the Brazilian approach and direct the E.P.A. to waive a portion of the renewable-fuel standards, thereby directing corn back to the marketplace. Under the law, the E.P.A. would first have to determine that the program was causing economic harm. That's a no-brainer, given the effects of sharply higher grain prices that are already rippling through the economy. The price of corn is a critical variable in the world food equation, and food markets are on edge because American corn supplies are plummeting. The combination of the drought and American ethanol policy will lead in many parts of the world to widespread inflation, more hunger, less food security, slower economic growth and political instability, especially in poor countries".

Of course America is a sovereign country with full power to dictate its own policy, deemed to be appropriate to its population but under today's globalized environment can one country decide unilaterally what it will do without bothering to think about the consequences of its action?. If past history is taken into consideration, the US is the biggest food donor in the world and one can assume that same humane consideration will prevail over its response to the new situation emerging in the food front. As a super power with vast technological superiority, this country can always think of other feasible alternatives for fuel production and the non-food biomass conversion to ethanol or high fat algal production can be a feasible alternative if pursued vigorously on a priority basis. The US must provide leadership to the rest of the world in ensuring that every grain of food is conserved and no human being goes to bed with a hungry stomach!


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