It’s all stupid propaganda and media hype. When you make a ton of ethanol you make a ton of Dry Distillers Grains with Solubles [DDGS]. When you make a ton of biodiesel from soy you get 5 tons of soy flour or 1 ton of soy meal. It’s all STILL food; High protein food stuff at that. It’s been used up by the livestock food industry, pet food [I suspect] and in some cases it’s been made into food for humans. Some has been wasted because the food industry was not ready for the huge boost in production occurring in the USA and Europe.
The main drivers of the food crisis is panic buying by governments and others. The speculators that messed up the US real estate market are jumping in to food speculation. The price of oil and thus fertilisers has pushed up costs. There have been huge GM crop failures in Asia that have gone under reported. The organic farmers in the third world are laughing loudly but the media doesn’t want to know about good news.
The fair trade people have contributed by making the world prices known to third world farmers. They can't be conned into selling very cheap to middlemen any more. I think that’s good news because the poor prices in the third world prevent farm capitalization. Even Organic farmers need some capital for seed stocks, irrigation, harvesting technology and workers.
The famous Tortilla riots were due to price rises caused by a bakers union wage claim but they blamed the price on corn from ethanol to throw the screaming mob off the union boss’s scent. See:http://www.khoslaventures.com/presentations/FOODvFUEL.pdf
Ethanol and biodiesel can both be sustainable if you do six sensible things.
(1) Power the tractor and trucks on biofuels. [Or solar electric]
(2) Use solar thermal to heat the feed stocks and do 80% of the distillation.
(3) Install food plants at the ethanol plants to make noodles etc from the 1 to 3 kg of wet distillers grains produced per gallon of ethanol.
(4) Feed some of the DDGS or soy flour to livestock on or near the farms where the grain/beans came from. That way the nutrients go back to the soil and you get ample nitrogen.
(5) Convert sewerage from those livestock to sterile fertiliser where possible and send it to cellulosic ethanol crops, orchids and fibre crops. It can be used on non food crops but this is easier to sell to the public in some places if its used on non food crops.
(6) Read http://www.sustainableethanol.blogspot.com/
All these steps, or versions of them, will work with most cellulosic ethanol and algae oil as well as grain ethanol, or rapeseed and soy biodiesel. And yes that means food from switch grass and wood chips in the long term.
The cereals ethanol industry was always meant to be transitional to cellulosic ethanol and algae oil. Both are coming faster than expected so there are fewer cereals based ethanol projects being developed as people move to these more advanced options.
All biofuels projects face a challenge with conflicting economies and dis-economies of scale. The industry and government often fail to grasp these details. Measures 4 and 5 above tend to favor small plants on the farm but governments and the multinationals don't grasp this point.
Update: It was coming fairly fast until some idiots voted for Obama and he shut down most of the programs while still holding the rights so no one can pursue them privately.
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