More fuel on the “food or fuel” issue

“If the country is going to meet the ethanol industry’s corn needs, we’re going to have to cut back on feed, cut back on food.” So said an agricultural economist in another news article today about the soaring price of corn because of the ethanol frenzy.

Back in September 2006 Dennis Avery was predicting that very dilemma in his CEI monograph, “Biofuels, Food, or Wildlife? The Massive Land Costs of U.S. Ethanol.” Read the whole report for more insights like these:

There are significant trade-offs, however, involved in the massive expansion of the production of corn and other crops for fuel. Chief among these would be a shift of major amounts of the world’s food supply to fuel use when significant elements of the human population remains ill-fed. Even without ethanol, the world is facing a clash between food and forests. Food and feed demands on farmlands will more than double by 2050. Unfortunately, the American public does not yet understand the massive land requirements of U.S. corn ethanol nor the unique conditions that have allowed sugar cane ethanol to make a modest energy contribution in Brazil.

The United States might well have to clear an additional 50 million acres of forest—or more—to produce economically significant amounts of liquid transport fuels. Despite the legend of past U.S farm surpluses, the only large reservoir of underused cropland in America is about 30 million acres of land—too dry for corn— enrolled in the Conservation Reserve. Ethanol mandates may force the local loss of many wildlife species, and perhaps trigger some species extinctions. Soil erosion will increase radically as large quantities of low-quality land are put into fuel crops on steep slopes and in drought-prone regions.

The market is already responding to the high price of oil, as investors flock to alternative fuels, including investments in cellulosic ethanol research and development. Those developments are healthy, if markets are allowed to discover the winners and losers in future alternative energy sources without government intervention through subsidies and fuel mandates, and with a clear assessment of the trade-offs that may be involved.