April 27, 2008

Food Versus Fuel? Why Not Food Versus Clothes?

Lately, biofuels have gotten a lot of the blame for rising food prices and have been blamed for people around the world going hungry. Many critics of biofuels have claimed that biofuels production was immoral because it was taking food out of poor people's mouths. One critic even went as far as saying that biofuels were a 'crime against humanity'.

In this country, ethanol in particular has been the recipient of a lot of that criticism. It has been blamed for any and all rising commodity prices.

But nothing has ever been said about any other non food uses of cropland. Let me explain.

Last year, we produced 6.5 billion gallons of ethanol. At the industry average of 2.8 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn, that equates to about 2.3 billion bushels of corn. At the national average of 151 bushels of corn per acre in 2007, that means that about 15.4 million acres were devoted to raising the corn used for ethanol production last year.

Now, I will agree that 15.4 million acres devoted to ethanol production sounds like a lot but in 2006 15.3 million acres were planted in cotton. And of course cotton is a non food item that is grown on land that could otherwise be used to grow food crops. But did you ever hear anything said about cotton taking food out of people's mouths? Was cotton ever called a 'crime against humanity'?

That same could be asked about nursery crops (landscape plants), floraculture crops (cut flowers), tobacco, and forestry crops (lumber). They all are non food items grown on land that could otherwise be used to produce food crops.

If the food versus fuel issue was really about feeding the poor wouldn't we also be examining these other non food uses of agricultural land as well?

With all that said let me just emphasize that I am not against cotton farming and am not suggesting that we stop growing cotton. The point is that American agriculture has always been about more than just food.

The same goes for the food versus fuel issue.

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