In the war on poverty, Sen. Gordon Smith,
R-Ore., is his own worst enemy. He is one of Congress’ leading
proponents of social welfare for poor and hungry households. Yet his
support for ethanol production helps inflate the price of food, making
it harder for these same families to eat.
Smith has long been a champion of America’s
hungry. He is a charter member of the Senate Hunger Caucus, formed in
2004 to focus Congress’ attention on “food insecurity,” a bureaucratic
term for American households that struggle to afford enough food to
eat. Almost a third of the Senate has joined the caucus, including both
Smith is now co-chairman of the caucus, and he
continues to labor to keep the issue in the spotlight. Just last March,
he convened a hearing on the plight of seniors who can’t afford a
proper diet. During the hearing, Smith implored Congress “to do more to
ensure our most vulnerable citizens are lifted from the threat of
Despite his evident concern for the hungry, Smith
supports an energy policy that threatens the very constituency his
hunger caucus was created to help.
In both 2005 and 2007, he voted to expand the
production of ethano because it furthers American energy independence
by displacing gasoline made from foreign oil.
Unfortunately, it also causes the price of food to
increase. After all, more food in the gas tank means less foodon the
It takes about 21 pounds of corn to make a gallon
of ethanol, and Smith backs a plan to make 15 billion gallons of
corn-fuels by 2016.
Last year, ethanol producers took 550 billion
pounds of corn off the market to make fuel. Since 2005, when Smith’s
ethanol policies went into effect, the added demand has helped push up
the priceof corn by 300 percent, and corn now sells at a record-high
But that’s not all. Expensive corn gave farmers
incentive to devote more land to corn and less to other crops, which
resulted in a supply crunch that caused thepriceof wheat and soybeans
to skyrocket to previously unseen levels.
By now, you probably have felt the pinchof rising
food costs at the supermarket checkout line. Meat and dairyare more
expensive because feed for livestock is made from corn.
The Labor Department reports that milk prices are
up 26 percent from a year ago, and eggs are up 40 percent. Expensive
wheat has pushed up the price of flour, so bread, pasta and cake cost
more. All told, the price of groceries is increasing at twice the
Not only is it harder to afford a meal, but the high price of food makes government assistance to the hungry less effective.
“With the rising cost of food, the food stamp
dollar doesn’t cover as much,” says Patti Whitney-Wise, executive
director of the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force.
Smith wants to help the hungry, but his energy
policy hurts them by raising food prices and diluting government aid to
the poor. By supporting ethanol, he tried to further America’s energy
security; instead, he ended up exacerbating its food-insecurity.
According to a 2006 report from the Department of
Agriculture, almost 12 percent of Oregon households are food insecure,
which is higher than the national average. Smith could best help his
most vulnerable constituents by ditching ethanol.