A recent posting in this web blog noted the problem of rising grain prices, most notably rice. It now seems that virtually all food items are increasing in price at a pace so great that the end result may be mass hunger and even starvation in many parts of the world, including so-called affluent countries like ones in Western Europe and even the U.S.A. Already, the price of basic cereal grains, notably wheat and corn are double in price to what they were just a few years ago. And many common vegetables, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, are selling at very high prices.
Global warming, or the hysteria being generated by this subject, is only part of the problem, however. There are other factors, both environmental and political, that are resulting in near-empty supermarket shelves and some countries and food riots in others. It’s easy to see why food shortages are now a way of life in most of Africa and parts of Asia. But now, millions of Americans are really feeling the bite that weekly grocery bills are taking from their incomes. And it’s not only bread, breakfast cereal, and other products made directly from grain that is causing food prices to run to as much as $250 a week for a family of four. Meat items are also becoming very expensive due to sharp increases in animal feed and fodder.
The answer to at least part of the problems of food shortages, coupled with high prices, lies in what we are now putting into our automobile gas tanks. Bio fuels, especially ethanol made from corn and sorghum, are re-directing thousands of tons of food grains into alcohol based fuels to make up for fuel shortages caused by increasingly scarcer and more expensive fossil fuels; most notably petroleum. Just ten years ago, American farmers complained of having massive grain surpluses, particularly in corn producing states like Indiana and Iowa. Due to low market prices, farmers were receiving subsides from the U.S. Government and were even being paid not to produce these crops.
Enter the ethanol age, when farmers are suddenly receiving high prices for growing ethanol producing grains with the encouragement and blessing of a government that continues preaching self-sufficiency in energy by augmenting crude oil with ethanol. The rush for farmers to grow crops for conversion into ethanol has resulted in countries like Brazil dedicating almost their entire agricultural production to growing crops like maize and sugar cane for conversion into ethanol. Poor Brazilian farmers, in their frenzy to grow “ethanol crops”, are destroying their country’s rain forests at an alarming pace to have more land available for growing these crops. The same thing is happening in many other countries too, with the result of less attention being given to growing crops for food.
Bio fuels in themselves are also ecologically polluting and contribute to the “greenhouse effect” and other symptoms of global warming. While these crops may not pollute our planet as bad as petroleum, bio fuels do cause pollution in their own way. And worst of all, every bushel of grain used to make ethanol means less available grain to be available for basic food commodities.
Less available grain means less and more expensive food products, especially for those whose main diet is composed of basic foods like bread items, including pastas. Perhaps it’s now time to “reverse” the emphasis on growing cereal crops for fuel and begin growing more crops again for food. If not, the day will soon come when a loaf of ordinary ‘store bread’ will cost more than a gallon of Bio fuel. And the cost of that bun on a McDonald’s or Burger King hamburger will cause it to be much more pricy than it is today. After all, you can’t eat that stuff that goes into your car.