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OFA President weighs in on the food vs fuel debate

The food versus fuel debate is flourishing in the mainstream and agricultural media. Geri Kamenz, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture weighs in on the debate.


May 23, 2008
By Geri Kamenz; ofa.on.ca

Topics

May 21, 2008

Daily we see stories of
rising food prices around the world. Food riots in
Philippines, Haiti and other countries are attributed
to these price increases.

Some writers and pundits
are drawing links between the high price of food and the use of foods like corn
to produce ethanol as a fuel supplement. Some Canadian politicians are
wrestling with our government’s support of programs requiring an increased
ethanol content in gasoline in
Canada.

A recent public poll in the
Globe and Mail indicated 77 per cent of respondents don’t support federal
government legislation that would boost ethanol content in Canadian gasoline.
Is this because they believe there is a link between ethanol produced from corn
and the perceived shortage of food in parts of the world? This food vs. fuel
controversy seems to be one of the most uninformed debates in recent memory.

Statistics tell us the
price of rice has doubled in the past six months, but we all know rice and corn
do not compete for the same land base. Duncan Macintosh of the International
Rice Research Institute in
Manila says ‘the current rise in rice
prices is the result of a steady decline in global rice stocks since 2004.’

Available statistics draw
no link between the use of corn to produce ethanol and the rising cost of rice
in other parts of the world. Jim Jubak, a financial analyst and commentator,
says there is a direct link between unstable governments and unstable food
prices. These governments subsidized rice prices, keeping them artificially
low, while at the same time discouraging their own farmers from producing more
rice, he claims. Rising demand is now leading to shortages.

Distiller’s grain is a
byproduct of ethanol production from corn. There is no loss in protein value
allowing that grain to be fed as part of a livestock ration. The cycle is
simple and elegant: the corn produces ethanol, carbon dioxide and protein; the
CO2 is used to nourish greenhouse tomatoes and other vegetables which also pump
out oxygen. The protein is used to feed livestock; the manure is then used to
produce electricity and nurture the next corn crop.

A recent Chicago Tribune
story quotes Merril Lynch analysts who say without biofuels, the price of oil
would be about 13 dollars per barrel higher than it is. That 13-dollar saving
for each barrel could save the
United States 65 billion dollars in foreign oil
payments. They suggest making flex-fuel – a mix of gasoline and ethanol – an
international standard providing competition for oil-based fuels.

North American farmers are
enjoying grain prices like they haven’t experienced in many years. Finally they
are able to market their crops and expect to cover their costs of production
and still have some money to put in the bank.

That extra money becomes
available to permit the replacement of old equipment, worn down through years
of low commodity prices, and investment in new technologies. This is what
farmers do to nourish the local economy, keeping the money in circulation, they
invest it in their industry and subsequently in their community.

With no
evidence to support all the theories that using grains like corn to produce
ethanol is a conspiracy against humanity, it is obvious there are more benefits
than harm from the production and use of ethanol.


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