biofuels = genocide: The End Of Cheap Food


Richard Moore

       "The stage is now set for frontal competition for grain
        between the 800 million people who own automobiles, and the
        world's two billion poorest who will need it to survive."

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The End Of Cheap Food
By John James
04 August,2007

It looks like the era of cheap food is over. The price of maize has doubled in a
year, and wheat futures are at their highest in a decade. The food price index 
in India has risen 11%, and in Mexico in January there were riots after the 
price of corn flour went up fourfold. The floods in England and India have 
devastated crops. In nearly every country food prices are going up, and they are
probably not going to come down again.

Before World War II, most families spent a third or more of their income on 
food, as the poor majority in developing countries still do. But after the war a
series of radical changes, from mechanisation to the green revolution, raised 
agricultural productivity hugely and caused a long, steep fall in the price of 
food, to a tenth of many people¹s income.

It will probably return to a quarter of a family's income within a decade, or 
higher, from four factors:

1) Demand as global population continues to grow and more people want to eat 
more meat. Early this month, in its annual assessment of farming trends, the UN 
predicted that in less than 10 years people in the developing countries will be 
eating 30% more beef, 50% more pig meat and 25% more poultry. With lot-feeding 
huge amounts of grain-growing land will move from human to animal consumption.

2) Global warming lowers crop yields: see the chart on the right. Christopher 
Field and David Lobell in Environmental Research Letters in March stated that 
for every 0.5°C temperature rise, crop yields fall between 3 and 5%. So 2°C 
hotter means a 12 to 20% fall in global food production just as the population 
is about to surge over the 7 billion mark.

3) Rising demand for biofuels replaces food production (see "Looming disaster", 
right), causing food price hikes that lead to social unrest, such as the recent 
riots in Mexico. This should be taken in context: a massive report by the major 
oil companies warns that oil supplies will peak within 8 years, if not sooner. 
It estimates that production from existing reserves would soon start declining 
by 3% pa even as world demand for oil is growing by 2% pa. In order to keep the 
driving public from facing reality politicians will take the easy road and 
legislate to use more land for biofuels.

4) Desertification, especially in the Sahara and Central Asia (see map below), 
is undermining food production for one third of humanity. Tree planting is not 
the answer as it puts more pressure on already-scarce water. Their food will 
have to be provided by just those breadbasket countries now turning to biofuels.
³It creates a chain reaction that must lead to social turmoil², Zafaar Adeel, 
author of the UN food report.

looming biofuels disaster

Biofuel production is pushing huge amounts of land out of food production. One 
sixth of the grain grown in the US this year will be "industrial corn" for 
ethanol. One third of US maize is now used for biofuel and there was last year a
48% increase in the amount of farmland devoted to biofuels. During that time 
hardly any new land was brought under the plough to replace the lost food 

There is only a difference in scale in China, Indonesia and Brazil where primary
forests are being cleared to plant energy crops. Yet, after fossil fuel use, 
deforestation is the largest single source of CO2.

The competition for water is likely to favour the biofuel producers as their 
crop, being subsidised, commands higher prices than corn or soya. Ethanol has 
roughly 70% the energy content of gasoline while costing 40% more to produce.

In Australia, if all our wheat and sugar output was diverted to ethanol it would
supply less than 30% of our fuel needs. As these crops now feed 80 million 
people, what will they eat instead?

It is argued that Australia could increase its biofuel capacity by using 
marginal land, but Mick Keogh, executive director of the Australian Farm 
Institute, said: "A close examination of global biofuel experiences shows they 
are only viable with high levels of government support, and have at best a 
limited capacity to meet future energy needs."

The attraction of biofuels for politicians is obvious: they can claim they are 
doing something useful to combat global warming without demanding any sacrifices
from business or the voters. For voters the attraction is that they can continue
to drive their cars without a thought for the consequences. The attraction for 
business is that they can make lots of money out of biofuels, and be subsidised 
to do so.

A straight switch is happening from food to fuel. As oil prices rise - and Peak 
Oil guarantees they will - it pulls up the price of biofuels as well, so it 
becomes more attractive for farmers to switch from food to fuel.

Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says: "The stage is now set for 
frontal competition for grain between the 800 million people who own 
automobiles, and the world's two billion poorest who will need it to survive."

The real answer is to consume less, drive less and to fund high-tech hybrid and 
electric cars so we dont panic for ethanol as oil production declines. Let's not
forget that ethanol is NOT a renewable product: just consider the fuel and water
required to produce and distribute it, and the clearing of the forests to grow 
it that is now releasing huge amounts of CO2.

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