The United States’ ethanol policy has been identified as a major contributor to the global spike in food prices in recent years, accounting for 20 to 40 percent of the price surges in 2008. The issue isn’t simply our food supply being used as fuel, instead it is the competition for arable crop land that is contributing to price spikes. Land that could be used to grow corn for animal feed is instead being used to grow corn biofuel.
However, in addition to crop land competition, a diet high in animal products also contributes to price spikes. Nearly all corn exported from the United States is in the form of animal feed, and competition for arable land results in a surge of feed export prices. Higher feed prices then lead farmers to seek alternative forms of feed such as wheat, sorghum, or food corn. This increase in demand then drives up local market staple prices, predominately in developing countries. In other words, animal feed is competing with the human food supply, causing the price of generally affordable grains and pulses to surge. In fact, this competition was responsible for the Mexico tortilla crisis of recent years in which tortilla prices rose by nearly 70 percent.
Global demand for animal feed has increased dramatically in recent years as more countries adopt western diets high in meat, dairy, and eggs. And with a projected increase in meat and dairy consumption of 73 and 58 percent respectively by 2050, the USDA projects the global demand for corn feed will continue to rise steadily in the coming decades.
Decreasing ethanol production will help increase food security for the burgeoning world population. But this is only one aspect of the solution. We must understand the inefficiency of our current food system in order to truly appreciate the problem. For example, it requires about sixteen pounds of feed to produce a single pound of beef, according to research by Diet for a Small Planet author and Brighter Green advisory board member Frances Moore Lappé. One solution to this problem is to modify global eating habits and stop the expansion of an inefficient western diet and western style industrial factory farms.
Decreasing animal product consumption will reduce the demand for corn feed and open crop land for production of high protein, healthy foods for direct human consumption. Not only wil this eliminate commodity spikes by reducing competition for animal feed production but additionally, harvest for direct human crops requires less arable land per caloric intake than do animal-derived foods and animal feed, thereby this will reduce the current crop land competition with biofuel.
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