Saturday, December 29, 2007

Still More On The Politics of Corn

This column by Bob Hill from the Louisville Courier-Journal was passed on to me. It's about an upcoming speech by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. I read the book earlier this year and it certainly is an eye-opener (as well as really well written) when it comes to the amount of corn and corn by-products in nearly everything we consume. Hill catches several points of Pollan's, one's I've touched on in earlier posts, that certainly bear repeating:

"Pay particular attention to talk about ethanol; the feel-good sound of the corn-based fuel as opposed to its hidden costs; the diversion of corn into subsidized fuel creating a shortage that already is driving up the prices of other food products for consumers and farmers -- especially those feeding corn to pigs and chickens. Pollan also points out ingesting corn really isn't good for cattle.

In "The Omnivore's Dilemma," he makes the point that the government's 51-cents-a-gallon subsidy for ethanol has only encouraged farmers to grow more and more corn for the sake of growing more corn -- all of it requiring more fuel and fertilizer.

The new energy bill requires a six-fold increase in ethanol use by 2022, and yet an Associated Press story said only about 1,000 of the 179,000 gasoline pumps around the country offer E-85 -- an 85 percent ethanol product -- and only about 5 million vehicles can handle it. It's also more expensive than gasoline.

Yes, corn prices have risen recently for farmers, but a New York Times story from Iowa said the ethanol boom may have begun to burst; there's already a surplus; the number of ethanol plants being built exceeds usable demand."

Another cost that the article doesn't mention, at least not directly, is that the increased use of fertilizer to grow more corn has adverse effects as far away as the Gulf of Mexico where every year a zone of oxygen depleted water spanning 5,000 to 8,000 square miles develops and fish and shrimp disappear from the waters. Agricultural runoff that feeds giant algal blooms is believed to be the primary cause of this.

Big Corn is taking the taxpayers for a very expensive ride, raising the costs of what we eat, the fuel we put in our cars, depleting water supplies and it is affecting our health. Taxpayer subsidization of the huge agricultural conglomerates has got to stop. Rational markets (good old-fashioned supply and demand) should drive what farmers produce. If farmers can't make money growing corn they should stop growing corn and grow something there is a demand for.
Share |

No comments: