03 August 2012

Drought, ethanol and the looming food crisis

That the drought in the U.S. will cause a rise in food prices is hardly news. However, scientists at the New England Complex Systems Institute are warning that the potential for a price spike has already been created by "misguided food-to-ethanol conversion programs and rampant commodity speculation." The drought will act as a "crop shock" causing the spike, originally predicted for 2013, to occur sooner "unless measures to curb ethanol production and rein in speculators are adopted immediately."

The Institute doesn't pull its punches. It claims that, "We are on the verge of another crisis, the third in five years, and likely to be the worst yet, capable of causing new food riots and turmoil on a par with the Arab Spring." Particularly worrying is that prices may rise well above the increase justified by the drought.

Commenting on the U.S. government's corn conversion to ethanol program, Institute President Yaneer Bar-Yam observed, "Given the possibility of price-driven famines, burning corn for cars is unconscionable."

American meat, dairy and poultry producers echo the Institute's concern, calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend this year's quotas for corn ethanol production. (The EPA's renewable fuel program requires oil companies to dilute their gasoline with increasing amounts of biofuel every year.) Randy Spronk, president of the National Pork Producers Association, told reporters, "We are worried about having enough corn, soybean and other crops at any price to feed our animals," while the president of the Minnesota Turkey Growers' Association, John Burkel, warned, "Even the most prudent and cautious producer could be put out of business."

Using a food crop to feed cars is questionable at the best of times—during a drought it is simply immoral.

1 comment:

  1. In North America, where "because we can" is accepted as ample justification for just about anything, the relevance of conscionability is heavily discounted.

    Yes it is unconscionable that corn yields remain diverted to ethanhol production. It is unconscionable that the largest trading desk at Goldman Sachs is the food commodities desk where they game global food shortages for great profits.

    Moral consciousness that itself underpins individual integrity has little or no market.