When corn was first discovered as an alternative fuel to gasoline and other fossil fuels, it seemed like as easy a boon for the American economy and farmers at first as opening a garage door. Once it became practice though, new problems were presented. Corn was used as food for humans and animals, but having it used as a fuel would affect its use as a food. According to a new report, Americans now use more bushels of corn to make fuel than to feed humans.
Scientific American writes;
“For every 10 ears of corn that are grown in the United States today, only 2 are consumed directly by humans as food. The remaining 8 are used in almost equal shares for animal feed and for ethanol. And, for the 12 months from August 2011 to 2012, the U.S. biofuels industry used more corn for fuel than domestic farmers did for livestock feed – a first for the industry. This significant milestone in the shifting balance between crops for food versus fuel shows the impact of government subsidies for the biofuels industry. And, it could represent a tipping point in the conflict between food and fuel demand in the future.”
Corn has been used for more than human food for years now, as it has been used for animal feed and also used for a cooking oil and sweetener. This past year, American farmers used 5 billion bushels of corn for human and animal consumption and 5.05 billion bushels was used for fuel. This has had an effect on food prices. The price of corn reflects the prices of other foods, and food prices are already steadily on the rise. So this may put more strain on the poor as more corn is grown to fuel cars than to feed people.
The issue with corn ethanol goes into land use and incentives for farmers. There are already several tax incentives in place for farmers to grow corn, as shown in the documentary “King Corn” and other sources. The corn we grow today is produced in vast numbers, but the nutritional quality is not the same as the old crops and the land becomes quickly used up.
Corn seemed like a great fuel source in theory, but the reality is something quite different. Corn ethanol is actually not that great of a fuel source in that its emissions are not much better than fossil-fuel like gasoline, and it can even be worse in certain situations. This is especially the case if land-use issues and higher food prices on the poor are considered. Many would agree that corn ethanol has a more negative impact than any benefit, but corn ethanol continues to be a well-funded and growing industry.
The reason why corn is pushed as a fuel source is to have domestic ethanol from corn to compete with foreign markets like the sugarcane one from Brazil. Several Congress members are trying to change this so that corn is used for food instead. This is hoped to be accomplished through eliminating tax incentives that boost domestic ethanol production through subsidies and import tariffs. Senators John Thune (R-SD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are the Congress members who are trying to change this.
There is a need for fuel, but there are other alternatives that are being researched that will have a far better result than corn. While many of us are very familiar with the concepts of conserving and making our current uses more efficient, these practices cannot be stressed enough. With conservation as a common practice and the research coming up with better fuel sources, we can help to plan a better, healthier future that also assures a steady food supply.