Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Monday, March 14, 2011

Give Us This Day Our Daily Fillup

I know, I know.  I can’t fool you.  Both religious and secular people know that Jesus taught his disciples to pray for daily bread.  It was a way of affirming dependence on our Father for the most basic of necessities, and an acknowledgment that not a single day goes by without needing His care.

Next to clean air and fresh water, nothing is more fundamental to life than bread.  Perhaps that’s why most of us love the sight of a productive farm as we drive through the country.  They’re growing our bread, our most basic need.

But things aren’t always as they seem.  As you drive down that bucolic country lane, only one in three corn fields is actually producing something for people to eat.  The first field produces feed for animals.  Granted, that contributes to the meat and eggs we eat, and the milk we drink.

The second produces corn to make human food – tortillas, cereals, cornbread, corn syrup sweetener, and the like – plus all the corn we export, no matter what it’s used for.

The third field produces corn for fuel: ethanol.  One third of all U.S. corn production – actually 34.9% – does not go to feed anyone or anything at all.  It makes fuel for cars.  Of course, it doesn’t make economic sense, so taxpayers have to subsidize it to the tune of $1.78 per gallon, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

And what’s the effect of all that productive farmland sidelined from feeding people?  As you’d expect, world food prices are soaring.  To be fair, experts disagree about the relative contributions of a number of factors, including ethanol, droughts, floods, and an increased appetite for meat in the developing world.  But the USDA’s chief economist, testifying before congress in 2008, attributed 70% of the rise in corn prices to ethanol production.

One thing’s clear, food is getting very expensive, while we’re subsidizing people to grow fuel for our tanks.

How expensive, you ask?  Well, since June 2010, the world price of maize (corn) is up 73%.  The price of wheat has more than doubled.  And the World Bank Global Food Price Index is up 29% from year-earlier levels.  If you are among the world’s poor, and use most of your money to buy food, a 29% increase is no laughing matter.  In fact, the World Bank reports that food costs have driven 44 million people into “extreme poverty” – less than $1.25 per day – since last year.

So the next time you hear a politician extolling the virtues of corn-fed "energy independence," you might want to ask him or her to think again.  How many millions more need to be driven to the brink of starvation to support our thirst for fuel?

Thanks for reading, and may God give you your daily bread.

J. Elwood

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, I completely agree. Using food for fuel seems criminal. Alternative fuels should be evaluated more broadly for world-impact.