Each year, an ever larger portion of the world's crops - cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil - is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running....
But with food prices rising sharply in recent months, many experts are calling on countries to scale back their headlong rush into green fuel development, arguing that the combination of ambitious biofuel targets and mediocre harvests of some crucial crops is contributing to high prices, hunger and political instability.
This year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that its index of food prices was the highest in its more than 20 years of existence. Prices rose 15 percent from October to January alone, potentially "throwing an additional 44 million people in low- and middle-income countries into poverty," the World Bank said.
Soaring food prices have caused riots or contributed to political turmoil in a host of poor countries in recent months, including Algeria, Egypt and Bangladesh, where palm oil, a common biofuel ingredient, provides crucial nutrition to a desperately poor populace. During the second half of 2010, the price of corn rose steeply - 73 percent in the United States - an increase that the United Nations World Food Program attributed in part to the greater use of American corn for bioethanol.
This after the AP reported yesterday:
Ethanol producers acknowledge they've increased demand for corn but say it's not enough to affect food prices.
Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, said the ethanol industry only uses about 25 percent of the nation's corn supply.
So who are you going to believe: the UN World Food Program, or a flack for the Renewable Fuels Association? I know, some choice.