Bio-row: Corn for food or fuel?

2012-08-13 11:33

WASHINGTON - The drought crippling the US agricultural sector has, for the first time, put demand for food and fuel in direct conflict with the United Nations demanding that America suspend its ethanol-from-corn fuel requirements as fears of food shortages spread

The Detroit News has reported that the US government has yet to decide on whether to waive the ethanol fuel requirements for the country’s 250-million cars as a corn shortage starts to bite.


Corn prices in the country, DetNews reported, have more than quadrupled in the last seven years as the US has boosted the amount of corn-based ethanol produced there.

The UN recently urged the White House to suspend the ethanol fuel requirements of the US’s 2007 Renawable Fuel Standard that has seen the US dramatically increase its use of ethanol in vehicle fuel. Production of 19-billion litres in 2007 was up to 57.5-billion by 2012 and the yield is expected to reach 136-billion litres by 2022 but several parties are opposed to the practice, blaming the diversion of corn to ethanol for an increase in feed prices – and the subsequent increase in food prices.

A White House spokesman said the Obama administration was taking the drought seriously. The DetNews reported the statement saying: “The (US) president is committed to ensuring that his administration is taking every step possible to help farmers and ranchers who have been affected by this disaster."


José Graziano da Silva, the director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, said in a Financial Times feature that about 40% of corn produced in the US would be used for biofuels.

"Much of the reduced crop will be claimed by biofuel production in line with US federal mandates, leaving even less for human food and animal feed markets. An immediate suspension of that mandate would give some respite to the market and allow more of the crop to be channelled towards food and feed uses."

FOOTNOTE: The South African government is lagging behind other African countries in its development of bio-ethanol and was  expected to publish its final regulations on the blending of fuels SOON. SA ethanol would be produced from sugar cane.