Pushing their pipedream versions of renewable energy, energy independence and national security, Congress and the White House gave us the current law that subsidizes the ethanol industry (and others). It was called the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The disastrous results of that federal foray into capitalist cronyism include our current crisis surrounding ethanol production and the price of corn in the face of a Hundred-Year drought; just after facing last year’s Hundred Year flood.
With a field corn shortfall and crops failing at record pace, Congress is pretending they are actually doing something about it. There are rumblings in Washington of cutting back on the Federal mandate requiring more billions of gallons of ethanol to be dumped into the gasoline we are forced to buy for our vehicles. The more ethanol the Feds require, the more ethanol the subsidized industry gets to sell and the more profit they realize. The law as it currently stands demands that the fuel industry must add 36 billion gallons of ethanol to refined gasoline by 2022. Where is that corn going to come from?
Clarify the corn. Let’s get something straight. What do we mean by “corn”? The vast majority of corn grown in this country is essentially inedible. That’s because it’s genetically engineered to produce grain feed for livestock, high fructose corn syrup and, of course, ethanol. You and I can’t eat “field corn” because it’s virtually useless without complicated processing. And this is the variety of corn that is subsequently subsidized by the federal government with your tax dollars.
A Failed Fuel. Critics of ethanol share staggering stats. Does ethanol save energy? No. Studies find that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than ethanol provides. Is it renewable? Is it “green”? Not really. The majority of the energy to produce ethanol comes from burning coal, a fossil fuel. Is ethanol good for the environment? Well, it actually produces more photochemical smog and toxic emissions than the same amount of gasoline. And water usage to make ethanol is off the charts. It’s impossible to generalize, but growing corn in the region that includes Nebraska takes 865 gallons per bushel. Some estimate that it takes upwards of 1000 gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol.
The High Cost of Cheap Food. The choice between food or fuel is a phantom. The kind of “food” that field corn goes to make is mostly fodder for stock animals. It’s the kind of junk food we shouldn’t be eating anyway. No, turning junk corn into junk fuel instead of junk food isn’t the problem. The greatest crime is that in growing this junk, we’re taking land out of production for farmers who want to grow food that is edible to humans.
I’ve talked to countless farmers who would love to grow more green beans, cauliflower, melons, Swiss chard, tomatoes, squash, broccoli, kale, cucumbers, apples, peaches, blueberries — the list is endless — but they can’t afford to rent or buy more cropland. Because the cropland is being used to grow field corn that is sold on the market at a government-subsidized inflated price.
Since 2003, corn acreage has increased 12.2 percent. But barley acreage has decreased 46.3 percent; wheat acreage decreased 13.7 percent; oats 31.7 percent. That’s food we can eat being replaced by corn for fuel and Fanta.
In 2000, ethanol used 5.9 percent of our corn crop and corn was $1.85/bushel. In 2010, ethanol used 38.4 percent of the corn crop and corn was $5.40/bushel. In July, corn was over $8.20/bushel, an all-time high. These are prices driven by a government mandate that is turning farmers from producing food we can eat to growing grains that are used for making ethanol, soda pop and processed food. The more ethanol the government orders us to use, the higher the corn prices will go.
“Your Mileage May Vary” To prove to yourself you’ve been sold a bill of goods, do the math. Try a tank of regular gasoline without ethanol (while you can still find it). Check your gas mileage. Then try the 10 percent ethanol blend. You’ll find you get worse mileage. Ethanol costs you more on the road than you save at the pump. And it costs you in tax dollars, too. One study of a major ethanol producer found that “every $1 of profits earned by its ethanol operation costs taxpayers $30.” So if you want to spend more money to go fewer miles while depleting the planet, use ethanol.
Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at www.HeartlandHealing.com