Public Interest Groups Challenge Misleading Government Information Used to Justify Ethanol Mandates and Subsidies

Recently, ActionAid USA and CEI filed a correction request under the Data Quality Act targeting misleading claims made by the EPA regarding the effects of ethanol mandates and subsidies, claims that have obscured how government policies have contributed to world hunger, malnutrition, disease, and death. This legal request, which was filed shortly before World Food Day, can be found here.

According to one recent study, ethanol diversion to fuel has caused nearly 200,000 excess deaths annually. Marie Brill, Senior Policy Analyst at ActionAid USA, stated: “High and volatile prices are already causing misery. The real price of a typical global food basket is up nearly 50% over the last year. With poor people in developing countries spending between 50-80% of their income on food, it is no surprise that 44 million people fell into extreme poverty from June 2010-February 2011 because of high food prices. The big surprise is that the EPA still fails to acknowledge the human impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard and still refuses to cite the plethora of reports that reveal the significant role of biofuels in global food price volatility.” According to Sam Kazman, CEI general counsel: “EPA’s refusal to address this issue has gone on long enough, and there isn’t a more appropriate time for the agency to change its approach than in the wake of World Food Day.”

In 2011, food prices soared all over the world, fueled by the fact “that more than a third of the corn produced in the U.S is now used to make ethanol.” As a result of such “bio-fuels” subsidies, one of the world’s largest food producers predicted a “global food crisis.”

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has long pushed ethanol subsidies, even though such subsidies have a history of  spawning famines and food riots overseas. The administration is now forcing up the ethanol content of gasoline through EPA regulations, even though ethanol production results in deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution.

Back in 2008, leading environmentalists lamented the devastating impact of ethanol subsidies on the global environment and the world’s poor. They noted that thanks to ethanol, “deadly food riots” had already “broken out in dozens of nations,” such as “Haiti and Egypt.” And they pointed out that

food-to-fuel mandates are leading to increased environmental damage. First, producing ethanol requires huge amounts of energy — most of which comes from coal. Second, the production process creates a number of hazardous byproducts, and some production facilities are reportedly dumping these in local water sources . . . Most troubling, though, is that the higher food prices caused in large part by food-to-fuel mandates create incentives for global deforestation, including in the Amazon basin . . . huge swaths of forest are being cleared for agricultural development. The result is devastating: We lose an ecological treasure and critical habitat for endangered species, as well as the world’s largest “carbon sink.” . . . the net impact of the food-to-fuel push will be an increase in global carbon emissions.

By increasing world food prices, ethanol subsidies also fostered Islamic extremism in poor countries such as Afghanistan that import much of their food.

Ethanol subsidies are not the only way that the Obama administration is harming poor people and the hungry. The Administration is also discouraging poor Americans from purchasing cheap, nutritious food. For example, it has also disparaged the consumption of potatoes, banning white potatoes from the federal WIC program, while allowing WIC money to be spent on far less nutritious things that are starchy, fatty or sugary (like apple sauce, which has no nutrition unless vitamin C is artificially added to it). The potato is superior to most foods in nutrients per dollar (and per acre of farmland), so much so that “in 2008, the United Nations declared it to be the ‘Year of the Potato.’” “This was done to bring attention to the fact that the potato is one of the most efficient crops for developing nations to grow, as a way of delivering a high level of nutrition to growing populations, with fewer needed resources than other traditional crops. In the summer of 2010, China approved new government policies that positioned the potato as the key crop to feed its growing population.” Potatoes provided much of the agricultural surplus that made the Industrial Revolution possible. Potatoes are more nutritious than other starchy foods like rice and bread, and “are a good source of vitamins.” They have a lot of vitamin C (much more than a banana or an apple), and potassium levels slightly higher than potassium-rich bananas). Potatoes also have all 8 essential amino acids, unlike most other staple foods like corn and beans.

The Obama administration is also using federal funds to subsidize the opening of an International House of Pancakes in Washington, D.C., and the development of high-calorie foods that benefit politically connected agribusinesses.