Friday, April 08, 2011
BURNING OUR FOOD AS THE WORLD STARVES
The New York Times yesterday, in an article by Elisabeth Rosenthal, uncovered more about the use of food crops as biofuel. In each and every article there is conspicuous by its absence any discussion of using the cellulose based waste parts of the plants - which are of little use in returning to the soil - as ethanol; for some reason, industry is taking the food right out of our mouths and producing bioethanol from the edible parts of plants - which is backwards, and ought to be addressed. The perception is that by lack of any discussion of this, articles can be used to scare the public away from ethanol and other biofuels - and steer us towards two and only two alternatives: nuclear power and fossil fuels. A recent letter in the NYT recently argued for the former, worded as if these two were the only choices. What both have in common is very rich investors who would like to keep ethanol out of reach.
But why are journalists not working to educate their readers? Are they stupid, do they not care, are they lazy, or are they bought off?
It can become more of a complex issue than one article can address, as Rosenthal does note by quoting Olivier Dubois, a bioenergy expert at the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome; Dubois notes that is hard to quantify the extent to which the diversions to biofuels have driven up the food prices: "The problem is so complex, so it is hard to come up with sweeping statements like biofuels are good or bad," he informs; yet sweeping statements are what the press likes to make of this issue, along with hype. Biofuel use of grain for non-food uses has risen from 1% to 6% recently, so it hardly equates to the 20 to 40% rises in food prices; which may well be due more to a rise in transport prices and plain old greed, along with some major crop failures in the world recently.
One wonders if the production of bioethanol would not in fact decrease the price of food, as the waste parts of edible plants could be sold thus increasing the yield for the farmer, who could afford to sell the edible parts for less...but this simple fact is conveniently not raised.
And if biofuels were widely produced, the resultant decrease in transport costs would also help decrease food costs...so why are we using so much of the edible parts for this? Thailand recently exported 98% of its cassava crop to China for biofuel development. And the US uses 40% of its maize (corn) for fuel, occasioning a 73% rise in its price on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange from June t0 December 2010. As far away as Rwanda, the price of this food rose 19%.
The whole thing seems one mess; but why? Look at our leaders and ask: Are they stupid, do they not care, are they lazy, or are they bought off?
If they were at all serious about biofuels and feeding people, they would legalise hemp in the US - growing if first for the edible seed, and then using the stalks for ethanol.