Biofuels and Rising Food Prices

The ethanol industry is, again, being hammered by the media. This time its The Washington Post, publishing an op-ed by Tim Searchinger, a professor at Princeton University: How biofuels contribute to the Food Crisis.

Searchinger gives a fair, honest estimate of the effect biofuel production has on food prices and convincingly refutes a number of common talking points put out by biofuel enthusiasts:

Nearly all assessments of the 2008 food crisis assigned biofuels a meaningful role, but much of academia and the media ultimately agreed that the scale of the crisis resulted from a “perfect storm” of causes. Yet this “perfect storm” has re-formed not three years later. We should recognize the ways in which biofuels are driving it.

He also notes the severity of the situation:

Each year, the world demands more grain, and this year the world’s farms will not produce it. World food prices have surged above the food crisis levels of 2008. Millions more people will be malnourished, and hundreds of millions who are already hungry will eat less or give up other necessities. Food riots have started again.

These are real problems. Government policies promoting the excessive production of biofuels could literally be killing people. This never seems to weigh heavily on the conscience of the politicians who support these fuels (of which there are hundreds).

Growth Energy got predictably upset with the op-ed, and have already published a same day rebuttal:

Once again displaying his willingness to ignore science, peer-reviewed research and the best available data, Tim Searchinger has authored another intellectually-bankrupt attack on farmers and renewable, clean-burning biofuels, this time in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

The notion that ethanol is causing the food crisis blithely ignores market realities, global trade agreements, the domestic farm policies of sovereign nations, and the impact of Wall Street’s rampant speculation.

They set up a nice strawman argument (and got in a nice populist dig against Wall Strett) — Searchinger didn’t claim that biofuels caused the crisis, but that they contribute to it.

Growth Energy has had to defend the ethanol industry from attacks coming from almost all mainstream media sources.  Not an easy attack, I assure you.