Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

The Effect Of Biofuel On The World Food Crisis

The production of biofuels may be a contributing factor to the rising costs of food worldwide.

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Photo: Spencer Thomas (flickr)

Although alternative fuel sources are needed, biofuels use food and land resources that are necessary to feed the world's growing population.

Although many factors contribute to the global food crisis, data shows that biofuels are a leading contributor to the skyrocketing prices.

Overcrowded Farm Land

Supporters of biofuels commend the alternative energy source’s ability to provide the United States with a home-grown, renewable resource. However, critics point out that growing biofules like corn for ethanol uses crop land that could be otherwise used for food.

Adding biofuel production to global food demands doubles the amount of grains that are needed worldwide without giving any more space to grow them. Currently biofuels use more than 6.5 percent of the world’s grains and 8 percent of vegetable oils.

Impressively, until now the world’s farmers have been able to meet the demand for both biofuels and edible grains when growing conditions are ideal. But bad weather, increased land demands for meat consumption, droughts in Russia, and floods in Australia have made it difficult to meet global food needs. When less grains are available, their price goes up and takes the global food prices with them.

Who Is Affected By Soaring Food Prices?

Biofuel companies like Grown Energy and the Renewable Fuel Association (RFS) argue that biofuels do not have a significant impact on food prices. However, Princeton researcher Tim Searchinger notes that data about biofuel is often misinterpreted. For instance, in a developed nation a processed food company absorbs higher grain costs while their products might not show a significant price increase.

However, in areas where people get nutrients from corn meal not Corn Flakes, these raised prices cause a big impact. This is especially relevant for people in impoverished areas, as high food prices will either mean making additional sacrifices for food or going hungry.

Additionally, when countries hoard crops, prices for grains rise worldwide. “Just as a political tremor in the Middle East makes oil prices jump in tight markets,” Searchinger adds, “drought in Russia sends wheat futures soaring once biofuels have stressed grain markets.”

The Next Generation Of Biofuels

The ethanol industry complained that blaming rising food prices on biofuels is a “highly well-funded and highly orchestrated campaign of misinformation,” specifically noting that corn used for ethanol is intended for animal consumption.

But while it seems the planet cannot meet the demands for simultaneous food and biofuel production, it also cannot withstand our demands for fuel as we currently produce it. This is why Searchinger and others say that it is imperative to discontinue biofuel production and move on to advanced biofuels, such as garbage and crop residue. These fuel sources do not compete with food.

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Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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