Utne Blogs > Politics

Good-Bye, Cheap Food. Hello, Increased Poverty.

by Staff


Tags: Agflation, corn, ethanol, food prices, world food prices, ethanol industry, ethanol subsidies,

CornAmericans are going to find their wallets shrinking along with their waistlines. Why? The price of food is exploding, reports the Economist. The price of wheat has gone from $200 a metric ton in May to more than $400 a metric ton in early September. Agflation—escalating food pricesnormally results from food shortage. The strange thing about this recent bout of agflation is that we have plenty of food. This year humans will have grown 1.66 billion metric tons of grain—a world record. The reason why food prices are exploding is that we’re eating differently.

The world’s growing population has always demanded more grains. But this new boom in demand comes from another source: wealth. Newly wealthy people in China and India want to toast their success with tasty meat. And growing meat takes a lot of grain. In 1985 the average Chinese person ate 44 pounds of meat a year. This year, the average Chinese person ate 110 pounds a year. That’s the taste of prosperity.

There’s another reason for ballooning food costs. Americans have more mouths to feed than ever. And by mouths I mean gas tanks. America’s bright idea to slake our thirst for oil is to convert one-third of our corn into ethanol. Not only are our bellies paying the price for our ethanol-spree, so are taxpayers. Ethanol is bankrolled by hefty government subsidies. The Economist writes: 

America's ethanol program is a product of government subsidies. There are more than 200 different kinds, as well as a 54 cents-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. That keeps out greener Brazilian ethanol, which is made from sugar rather than maize. Federal subsidies alone cost $7 billion a year (equal to around $1.90 a gallon).

Why such subsidies? The ethanol lobby plays a strong role here. The Utne Reader reports in its May-June 2007 issue that in the 2004 and 2006 election cycles groups connected to the ethanol industry gave $1.2 million to political candidates. So candidates enjoy the double-boon of reaping industry campaign contributions while touting a popular (but largely misunderstood) salve for our environmental woes.

As for the shift in food prices, the bad news is that these changes are probably permanent. The worse news is that while rising grocery bills may put a strain on American bank accounts, the real losers will be poor countries. The Economist cites Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize winner for economics at the University of Chicago, who has figured that if food prices rise by one third, the standard of living will fall 3 percent in rich countries and more than 20 percent in poor ones.

Brendan Mackie

Photo by tlindenbaum licensed under Creative Commons.

veronique
1/12/2008 12:49:51 AM

I'm surprise that this extremist comment that charge meat eater to be evil is here ! About our teeths, a little biogoly class will inform you that they are made to eat grain, vegetables and... meat ! It's our natural way to live. If we eat meat from big farms then we pollute, if we eat meat from uncontrolled production then we promote pain BUT if we eat local little controlled farms meat or local savage meat rightly killed (yes I used the unliked word KILL) we promote our natural way of life. Don't forget that nature provide rabbits to maintain the specy and more to feed predators because predators are needed too in the balance. Rabbits not killed by predators (by one shot if predator is an human) will die anyway by more pain (sickness, hunger, cold...). We have to stay ourselves and play our role in the nature balance but do it the right way and in a normal measure. If we eat the meat our organism need and there is not enough food maybe we reach (or pass over) the maximum human quantity on earth... don't forget there is a need to have place on earth for other organisms like forests and other animals... I don't means to kill people but if we can't naturally live because we are too much for the ressources maybe we should act like Cheeneses and stop having too much babies because they will have lot of babies too... and we have a larger survival rate than 100 years ago.


allen dale
12/28/2007 10:29:08 AM

Why I am proud to be a Vegetarian The world produces in abundance for all that have the courage, common sense and dignity to break from eating meat. Think of the superabundant harvest of a single grain of Wheat. World hunger past, present and future stem from our inability to observe the law of Karma. Sowing and reaping, the very metaphor outlines a natural way of life. Look in your own mouths, are these the razor-sharp teeth of a carnivore? No, they are the flat grinders of grains. Look in the mouths of, yes, cattle. OH, MEAT-EATER, YOU ARE A DEVIL, NOT A HUMAN BEING KEEP NOT A MEAT-EATERS COMPANY, FOR HIS COMPANY IS HARMFUL TO DEVOTION TO THE LORD... I SAY TO YOU, AND ONCE AGAIN I SAY AND ENTREAT YOU, TAKE THIS FACT TO HEART; THAT HE WHO YOU LIGHTLY KILL TODAY, WILL ONE DAY SLAUGHTER YOU. MY FRIEND, PRAY CUT THE THROAT OF ANGER, AND SLAUGHTER THE RAVAGES OF BLIND FURY; FOR HE WHO SLAUGHTERS THE FIVE PASSIONS, LUST, ANGER , GREED, ATTACHMENT AND SELF-PRIDE, WILL SURELY SEE THE SUPREME LORD FACE-TO-FACE. KABIR