Ethanol now consumes 40% of U.S. corn production.
The Working Paper, “The Cost to México of the U.S. Corn Ethanol Expansion”, was released in Mexico City last week, on the eve of a key meeting of vice ministers of agriculture from the G-20 countries. They met to set the G-20 agenda on food security in advance of the G-20 summit June 18-19 in Los Cabos, Mexico.
“Mexico is the chair of the G-20,” notes Wise. “The government has the opportunity to take a strong lead in that powerful body to address the underlying causes of the food crisis. Curbing the expansion of biofuels is crucial to that effort. Mexico itself bans the use of corn for ethanol to protect food security. Our study shows that Mexicans themselves have suffered from less restrictive U.S. biofuels policies.”
The Working Paper, which is being released in Mexico in conjunction with a policy report from the international aid organization, ACTIONAID, finds that:
The study recommends that the Mexican government take a strong stand in the upcoming G-20 meetings, by demanding that biofuels, commodity speculation, import dependence, and other underlying causes of the food crisis be on the agenda. Wise found in a recent co-authored report, “ Resolving the Food Crisis”, that the G-20 was undermining global efforts to address the crisis, ignoring even its own commissioned studies on food security.
As Wise concludes in the new paper, “Such policies are costing Mexico dearly. Mexico should use its position as chair in the upcoming G-20 meeting to put biofuels back on the table.”
ActionAid Policy Report: "Biofueling Hunger: How US Corn Ethanol Policy Drives Up Food Prices in México":":
Study from the New England Complex Systems Institute. "Impact of ethanol conversin and financial speculation on México corn imports".":
Policy report by Wise and Sophia Murphy, Resolving the Food Crisis: "Assessing Global Policy Reforms since 2007":
The ecological impacts of biofuel production.
For years, some critics have claimed that corn-based ethanol has a negative “net energy balance” — that is, that ethanol requires more energy to produce than it delivers as fuel. But as biofuel production efficiencies have improved, critics have turned their focus to broader sustainability issues.
Even if corn and soy biodiesel have positive energy balances, that’s not enough. Large-scale production of corn and soybeans has negative ecological consequences. If biofuels are based on systems that exacerbate soil erosion and water contamination, they’re ultimately not sustainable.
As ethanol use pushes corn prices higher, farmers (in the US) are increasingly abandoning the traditional corn-soybean rotation to what’s known in farm country as corn-on-corn. High prices have encouraged farmers to plant corn year after year, an intensification that boosts fertilizer and pesticide requirements.
Water use has also become a concern as corn production expands into drier areas like Kansas, where the crop requires irrigation. The ethanol boom has sent water demands skyrocketing, putting pressure on already suffering aquifers.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world the hype over biofuels in the U.S. and Europe has had wide-ranging effects perhaps not envisioned by the environmental advocates who promote their use. Throughout tropical countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, and Colombia, rainforests and grasslands are being cleared for soybean and oil-palm plantations to make biodiesel, a product that is then marketed halfway across the world as a “green” fuel.
And according to a recent report by the World Resources Institute, stepped-up corn ethanol production means not only increases in soil erosion and water pollution, but increases in greenhouse-gas emissions. “If your objective is reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, you need to be aware of what’s happening in the agricultural sector,” says Liz Marshall, coauthor of the WRI study.
Ethanol proponents say the fuel emits up to 13 percent fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline. But an increase in emissions on the farm could cancel out benefits from emission decreases at the tailpipe ……