American Society For Nutrition

“Six Billion Stomachs to Feed Vs 800 Million Auto-Tanks to Feed”: Some Perspectives

“Six Billion Stomachs to Feed Vs 800 Million Auto-Tanks to Feed”: Some Perspectives

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 06/17/2009 at 08:28:57 PM by Student Blogger

By: Bobban S.

Recently, one thing that I noticed both in high-tier scientific journal's news-views as well as popular news media is the repeated appearance of words such as ‘biofuel', ‘green house emissions', ‘carbon sequestration', ‘green technologies', ‘cap and trade'. The word “biofuel” is buzzing around both in the research and business worlds. As energy resources are the prime engines of development in the modern world, there is no doubt why developed as well as developing nations are craving for new sources of liquid fuel in the era of a “carbon constrained world”. The US mandated that 36 billion gallons of conventional and advanced biofuel be produced by 2022. Similarly, European Union introduced a binding target of 10% renewable biofuel energy in transport by 2020. This global trend obviously tells us a significant change in the future biofuel sector. Most of these future biofuel projections are based on feed stock such as corn, soybean and sugar cane which are also food commodities.


How does this affect food prices and global food supply? Let us quickly glance through some facts which I gleaned from different readings:

World population is expected to grow from 6.2 billion to 9.5 billion and world food demand is expected to nearly double by 2050. However, the productive agricultural land on our planet is confined and actually decreasing. Due to extreme weather (remember the record drought in Australia and southern Africa, floods in West Africa, record-breaking warmth in Northern Europe) the global future food security is already in jeopardy. There is no doubt that the shift in land usage and crop utilization for biofuel will have global repercussions in the food demand-supply equation. Energy and agricultural markets are closely linked. As energy markets are much larger than agriculture markets, the movements in energy markets affect agriculture more than vice versa. In 2007, biofuel production used ~ 5 % of world cereal production, 9% of world oil production, and 10% of sugar-cane production. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that in 2008 about 20-22 percent of US corn crop was fermented to bioethanol. Estimates have shown that 32 million tons of corn could feed 100 million people, or to put in another way, the corn used to produce a 25 gallon tank of ethanol would feed one person for a year. Higher corn prices result from biofuel mandates and subsidies encourages farmers to plant fewer acres of wheat and soybeans—which in turn raises their prices. In addition, corn is the chief feed grain for which producers of beef, poultry, and pork must pay higher prices which they will eventually pass along to consumers.

All these facts will tell us that a pressure from biofuel industry will further exacerbate an already worse global food security issue. In just last three years, the price of wheat and corn tripled, and the price of rice increased fivefold pushing 75 million more people into poverty. The World Bank estimated that food prices have already gone up 83% and riots for food have already broken out in half a dozen countries due to extreme food shortages. Although experts at Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Food Policy Institute (Washington D.C) admit that biofuel is only one of the many drivers of high food prices, there is increasing fear that developing biofuel based on food crops could reduce the production of badly needed basic food stuffs. The need for renewable energy is inevitable for future generations but it shouldn't be at the cost of putting millions of people at hunger. Now as a global citizen some of the obvious questions which came to my mind are:

Can fuel and food crops co-exist? Are there policy initiatives which foresee a synergistic development of agricultural food and energy crops?

What vital role international organizations and policy advocacy groups can play in this global issue?

How do the energy policy and energy crop subsidies in developed countries affect the food supply in the world's poorest countries?

As nutritionists and dieticians how could we positively contribute in this global issue?

Posted Jul 06, 2009 12:28 PM by Sam
Let's use corn in a more thoughtful manner.

Posted Jul 06, 2009 12:33 PM by Fred
Interesting stuff.

Posted Aug 28, 2009 9:58 AM by Kevin
Thanks for putting together a reasoned discussion into the dilemma we face regarding the use of feed crops for fuel. I hope that the U.S. policy on this changes under the Obama administration. From other articles I have read it seems to me that the efficiency of converting corn into ethanol is so poor that it makes me wonder why we ever started down this road in the first place. Keep up the good work!