Law For Food: The law affects what you eat. What you buy to eat affects the law.


Food And Energy (Ethanol)
30 July 2007, 6:55 am
Filed under: Economics of Eating, Ethics of Eating, food politics

Accidental Hedonist has a post about how increased use of ethanol is a competing use of corn, which causes a rise in supply costs of a great many products Americans eat.

I don’t know much about the ethanol program, but it seems to me that this was obvious, and is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, particularly if it causes U.S. producers and processors to switch away from High Fructose Corn Syrup. Then I looked into ethanol production and found evidence of at least one major problem with it:

Ethanol is produced by fermenting renewable crops like corn or sugarcane. It may sound green, Patzek says, but that’s because many scientists are not looking at the whole picture. According to his research, more fossil energy is used to produce ethanol than the energy contained within it.

Emphasis added. I thought this was worth mentioning.

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2 Comments so far
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Even the most cursory internet search will show that ethanol from corn is, very possibly, the worst possible choice of products to produce ethanol. Ethanol from corn is reported to yield a return of anywhere from 5% to 26% above the energy required to produce it. Sugar cane, on the other hand, is reported to return 7 times the energy required to produce it. There are many other crops that have greater yields than corn.

Although I share the concerns about high fructose corn syrup, there are other ethical questions about the use of a food grain to produce fuel. Some of these concerns apply to other sources of ethanol as well.

Some reports indicate that Biodiesel is a greater yield of useable energy than ethanol. Additionally, getting away from flex-fuel vehicles in favor of diesel fuel vehicles makes sense because there are more gallons of diesel that can be produced from a barrel of oil than gallons of gasoliine and the gallon of diesel contains greater useable energy resulting, potentiall, in greater fuel economy.

At present, ethanol is subsidized about $0.51 per gallon and the price of it at the pump is still not generally competitive, even where available.

The “corn mafia” runs slick adverts identifying ethanol as “corn likker” to promote their version to the public…I guess the like a market where the price has doubled recently. this only so happens to make corn based ethanol even less a viable option than it was earlier.

Biofuels in general sound attractive, but studies which have analyzed the crop source necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of fuel to make a substantial impact on America’s energy needs would greatly exceed what is possible to produce.

Though some segments of the biofuel market make sense, such as recycling cooking oil so that a waste material is consumed in a useful manner, biofuels do not represent a probable solution for our dependence on foreign energy sources.

That solution awaits other technologies.

Comment by Richard

Hi Richard. I don’t even pretend to be an expert on energy policy or the related technologies, so I will take your word on those matters. My point, as I’m sure you noted, with regard to the rise in cost of HFCS-containing products, was not that on balance corn-based ethanol was a good thing, either for the U.S. food market or the economy as a whole. I would very much like to see a return to natural sweeteners like sugar for a lot of reasons, but that doesn’t mean I think turning corn into ethanol is the best way to go about that.

It seems to me that one of the first things a sensible energy OR food policy should do is re-examine the corn subsidy. It may be the case that market efficiencies and energy efficiency do not always go hand in hand. But the way this situation is being managed, neither efficiency is being realized.

Comment by lawforfood




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