photo by wikimedia
There has been concern lately that biofuels may be contributing to the global food shortage. Some worry that biofuels are driving up food prices and that more crops are turned into fuel instead of food, causing people in the poorer and drought-stricken nations to starve. Other analysts worry that there will not be enough grain leftover to feed livestock. This may not be the case. Biodiesels aren’t driving up worldwide food prices.
The lack of food is driving up worldwide food prices. Australia is in the midst of a horrible drought. It was the second-largest exporter of grain next to the United States—the country that produces the most ethanol. Australia has only produced 2% of its annual average yield this year, and things only look to get worse as climate change wreaks its havoc.
It is true that most crops are consumed in the country in which they are made, but Australia isn’t exporting anymore, and they now have to rely on imports themselves. Farmers, worldwide, are growing more rice due to the shortage and are reducing the amount of other crops being grown. Not only do you have less rice, but you have less of everything else. All food becomes more valuable as less of it becomes available. Food is in greater demand because there is less supply. That is why it is more expensive. It is also costly to ship it to climate-change affected nations. That takes oil, and we are running out of that as well.
Biofuels aren’t squandering our food resources.
If we look at ethanol production in the United States specifically, we find that the amount of food wasted by the process is nearly negligible. Ethanol production requires the starches and the sugars of the corn plant, but it does not require the protein. This protein is recaptured and used as animal feed, a sugar-free animal feed that can easily be modified into food for humans. Most malnutrition is caused by inadequate protein. If the corn protein is still palatable, then ethanol production has not affected worldwide malnutrition.
With technology and science advancing faster and faster, new forms of biodiesels like ones made out of the cellulosic plant waste will become more viable and this whole discussion will probably be put to bed. The arguments that biofuels contribute to world hunger are mountain-out-of-molehill-making arguments at best, never quite getting to the roots of the problem.
The problems seem to be mostly systemic. The population is rising. There is less food. Our climate is changing for the worse. The environment can’t sustain so many of us being so wasteful. Some extra corn sugar isn’t going to put an end to that.