U.N.: Ease ethanol production to aid global food problem

A field of dead corn sits next to the Lincolnland Agri-Energy ethanol plant July 25, 2012 in Palestine, Ill.

Jeff Horwich: The U.S. drought is fueling a corn shortage that's driving up prices around the globe. And yet, federal support for corn ethanol -- a fuel additive -- means some 40 percent of U.S. corn will be turned into ethanol this year. The head of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization has formally asked Americans to give the rest of the world a break, and suspend our ethanol subsidies.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh has more.

Eve Troeh: U.S. corn is one of the world's most important crops. It gets ground up to feed people, and livestock, all around the globe. But a U.S. mandate for ethanol production means more and more U.S. corn has to go to biofuel.

And that's the problem, says David Hallum. He directs trade and markets for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Hallum says the U.N.'s request for the U.S. to suspend its ethanol mandate isn't about stamping out biofuel production. It aims, he says --

David Hallum: To try and introduce some flexibility to the system, so the policies in place don't make matters worse.

The U.S. could introduce a clause that would suspend the ethanol mandate when corn prices reach a certain level, he says. That would free up more land to grow food instead of fuel.

Hannah Stoddart at Oxfam says the food versus fuel debate is mostly about land.

Hannah Stoddart: The amount of land that it takes to fill just one car with biodiesel could feed a family of three for a month.

She says biofuel mandates have big companies buying up land in the U.S. and around the world, adding to the acreage devoted to fuel instead of food.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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A common myth is all 40% of the corn crop was used for fuel ethanol. Now, I'll discuss the rest of the story.

DDG contains everything in the corn kernel except the starch and is better for the cattle than pure corn. DDG and DDGS make up about 30% of the corn kernel, and the rest of the corn kernel is starch. DDG contains the protein, hull, fat, and minerals from the corn kernel and is the good part of the kernel. Cattle gain weight faster and produce more milk on DDG over corn.

(From what I read) In a corn ethanol plant, three products are produced: ethanol, DDG (and DDGS), and corn oil. Because DDG is more effective in getting livestock to gain weight, only an effective 16% of the corn crop for 2010-2011 period went directly to ethanol. The 16% is based on 37% of the corn crop going to the corn ethanol plant.

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