World food crisis puts spotlight on biofuels
Published Thursday, April 24, 2008 9:37PM EDT
A world-wide food crisis is bringing some unwanted attention to the production of biofuels.
Critics say using food staples such as corn to produce energy supplies like ethanol just doesn't make sense.
Some critics charge that grain needed to make just one full tank of ethanol for an SUV is enough to feed a person for one year. Such charges have some concerned in the U.S., where nearly a third of the entire corn crop is going into the gas tank.
"I just don't believe we should be moving in the direction of producing biofuels that are made with food," says Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, a member of the U.S. House Hunger Caucus.
The demand for corn use in biofuels is raising food costs in general. The price of corn has roughly tripled in the past two years. Adding to the criticism, even ethanol producers acknowledge that producing ethanol from corn is not providing a more secure energy source for countries such as the U.S.
"Ethanol is not here to replace foreign oil -- that's never going to happen," said Scott Zabler of U.S.-based Pine Lake Corn Processors.
Nonetheless, the U.S. government has been heavily subsidizing ethanol production. Here in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced last summer that Ottawa would invest $1.9-billion over nine years into renewable fuels, including ethanol. Proponents of biofuels such as ethanol say they burn cleaner and are more environmentally friendly than traditional fossil fuels.
But critics say ethanol is a losing proposition because it's too costly to produce and transport.
"It takes more than a gallon of oil to produce one gallon of ethanol, so we're actually importing oil from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to produce the ethanol," says Cornell University agricultural scientist David Pimental.
Meanwhile, those trying to feed the hungry say the world's poorest people are paying the ultimate price. This week, World Vision announced that it would not be able to help more than one million people because of soaring food costs.
Multiple factors are behind the higher food costs -- including drought, climate changes, and changing food patterns. But World Vision Canada's Dave Toycen told CTV that one of the main factors may be less food because staples such as corn are being consumed by vehicles and not people.
Toycen said that the most profound result of the cutback world Vision has been forced to make is that hundreds of thousands of children under five -- who rely on the international organization to ensure their development -- will not get the nutrition they need.
With a report by CTV's Tom Walters