This is part two of my series on how the wasteful, destructive agriculture polices of the last 8-12 years — also known as “Make Money By Not Feeding America” — has affected the cost of the food we purchase. Part One is here.
In Part One, I spoke of wheat and how in the rush to grow corn for ethanol, it’s being pushed aside – which drives up prices at the mills, which then drives up the price at the retail level.
In the rush to find cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels for our vehicles, ethanol was latched onto by the Bush administration. As a result nearly a quarter of all corn grown is being diverted from human and animal food stocks and heading for ethanol plants.
As we see with wheat, prices are going up. In this case, the price rise is first seen as the price-per-bushel – the amount the corn farmer is paid. That drives up costs at the farm and farm-factory level – where it’s used as feedstock cattle and poultry. Then prices rise again at the retail level. We’ve seen a huge rise in the cost of eggs, meat, and milk and other dairy products as a result.
Meanwhile…back at the farm, it’s difficult to turn away from devoting your corn to ethanol production with prices per bushel on the rise.
From the Washington Post, via MSNBC: [my emphasis throughout]
Across the country, ethanol plants are swallowing more and more of the nation’s corn crop. This year, about a quarter of U.S. corn will go to feeding ethanol plants instead of poultry or livestock. That has helped farmers like Johnson, but it has boosted demand — and prices — for corn at the same time global grain demand is growing.
And it has linked food and fuel prices just as oil is rising to new records, pulling up the price of anything that can be poured into a gasoline tank. “The price of grain is now directly tied to the price of oil,” says Lester Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute, a Washington research group. “We used to have a grain economy and a fuel economy. But now they’re beginning to fuse.”
Oh, and thank your Democratic Congress too.
Rising food prices have given Congress and the White House a sudden case of legislative indigestion. In 2005, the Republican-led Congress and President Bush backed a bill that required widespread ethanol use in motor fuels. Just four months ago, the Democratic-led Congress passed and Bush signed energy legislation that boosted the mandate for minimum corn-based ethanol use to 15 billion gallons, about 10 percent of motor fuel, by 2015. It was one of the most popular parts of the bill, appealing to farm-state lawmakers and to those worried about energy security and eager to substitute a home-grown energy source for a portion of U.S. petroleum imports. To help things along, motor-fuel blenders receive a 51 cent subsidy for every gallon of corn-based ethanol used through the end of 2010; this year, production could reach 8 billion gallons.
There’s just one problem…well, several problems:
Although ethanol was once promoted as a way to slow climate change, a study published in Science magazine Feb. 29 concluded that greenhouse-gas emissions from corn and even cellulosic ethanol “exceed or match those from fossil fuels and therefore produce no greenhouse benefits.” By encouraging an expansion of acreage, the study added, the use of U.S. cropland for ethanol could make climate conditions dramatically worse. And the runoff from increased use of fertilizers on expanded acreage would compound damage to waterways all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Development specialists have also joined the fray. “While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs, and it is getting more and more difficult every day,” World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick said in a recent speech.
And, the future for food prices isn’t looking too good:
Two leading oil pipeline companies are exploring the feasibility of building a $3 billion ethanol pipeline, the first of its kind, to link Iowa and other parts of the Midwest with motor-fuel markets in the East. It would carry 3.65 billion gallons a year and give another industry a vested interest in maintaining high ethanol output. Because of this domestic demand, Iowa’s exports of corn are expected to shrink to less than half of current levels in the next couple of years. Nationwide, corn stockpiles are dwindling.
… Iowa produces more eggs, 13.5 billion, than any other state. And chickens, like capons, mostly eat corn feed. The Charles City ethanol plant alone consumes three-quarters as much corn as the entire Iowa egg industry.
“We don’t have to make fuel out of corn and soybeans, but we do have to feed animals,” says Kevin Vinchattle, executive director of the Iowa Egg Council. “We’re going to be right there bidding for feedstocks and making sure that we have the highest-quality feed available. We just don’t have an alternative.”
What we really need in this country is a responsible, sustainable, non-destructive, non-wasteful agriculture policy. We absolutely do need to support our family farmers. But, we should only support those family farmers who are contributing to the feeding of America.
It is time to end the subsidies to corporate entities that run factory farms, the owners of said corporate entities, and those whose product is going for any use other than feed or food.
What we also need is a responsible energy plan, because — thanks to the ethanol boom – the two are intertwined.