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Food vs. Fuel Debate

One of the big debates in the emerging Bio-Economy involves the tradeoffs between growing agricultural crops for human consumption and animal feed versus biomass feedstocks for alternative fuels. Here we offer informational resources and various persectives.

Articles, Presentations & Reports
Algae's Impact on the Food-Versus-Fuel Debate A January 2009 article in Biodiesel Magazine highlights the possible avenues an algae farm can go down to make a profit and the general value of algae in the ecological system. This is includes: bioenergy, a nutritional source for fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (a strong nutraceutical force), and other pharmaceutical treatments.
Food vs. Fuel: Diversion of Crops Could Cause More Hunger An article in the June 2008 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, Abstract: "Biofuels are being promoted as energy sources that could reduce both dependence on imported oil and fossil fuel emissions. Currently, a large percentage of biofuels are produced from food crops, a situation that some experts say is leading to food insecurity around the world. Not only are more crops being used to make fuel, but there is also increasing demand for food for human and animal consumption from growing consumer markets. Researchers are working to calculate the long-term impact of increased biofuel production on food prices and availability; many conclude that as food and fuel prices become more intertwined, the hungry will be hit the hardest."

Global Agricultural Supply and Demand: Factors Contributing to the Recent Increase in Food Commodity Prices

A USDA's Economic Research Service publication from May 2008 that covers a variety of natural and manmade influences on food commodity prices including an increased demand for biofuels, adverse weather conditions in 2006 and 2007, and the wekaening US economy. Chapters are in .pdf format.
Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States April 2008 research paper, published in Environmental Science & Technology, detailing the differences between carbon emissions from transportantion of food and the emissions of production and processing at specific locations.
Deadly Greed: The Role of Speculators in the Global Food Crisis April 2008 article from Spiegel Online: International, an in-depth analysis of the economics behind the current global food crisis. Also see Spiegel's photo gallery titled Food Riots around the world.
Global Food Crisis: The Fury of the Poor April 2008 article from Spiegel Online: International, Abstract: " Around the world, rising food prices have made basic staples like rice and corn unaffordable for many people, pushing the poor to the barricades because they can no longer get enough to eat."
A Global Need for Grain That Farms Can't Fill March 2008 article from the The New York Times, in the series "The Food Chain: Cash Crops," Summary: When much of the country is contemplating recession, farmers are flourishing because of runaway demand.
Ethanol, Mandates, and Drought: Insights from a Stochastic Equilibrium Model of the U.S. Corn Market March 2008 report from CARD, Abstract: "The outlook for U.S. corn markets is inextricably linked to what happens to the U.S. ethanol industry, which depends, in turn, on the level of government subsidies and mandates. We develop a stochastic partial equilibrium model to simulate outcomes for the corn market for the 2008/09 marketing year to gain insight into these linkages. The model includes five stochastic variables that are major contributors to corn price volatility: planted acreage, corn yield, export demand, gasoline prices, and capacity of the ethanol industry."
Corn Prices Near Record High, But What About Food Costs February 1, 2008 report from USDA's Economic Research Service, subtitled: Higher corn prices increase animal feed and ingredient costs for farmers and food manufacturers, but will consumers undergo the same sticker shock at the grocery store? Summary: "Ethanol’s impact on retail food prices depends on how long the increased demand for corn drives up farm corn prices and the extent to which higher corn prices are passed through to retail. ERS research traces the effect of higher corn prices on U.S. retail food prices by analyzing data on price trends and price response of corn-dependent food to cost changes."

Price Spreads from Farm to Consumer

Report from 2007 by the USDA's Economic Research Service that "compares the prices paid by consumers for food with the prices received by farmers for corresponding commodities."

Ethanol Expansion in the Food versus Fuel Debate: How Will Developing Countries Fare?

December 2007 issue of the Journal of Agricultural & Food Industrial Organization. Abstract: " Using the price changes estimated within a multi-commodity, multi-country agricultural modeling system, this paper attempts to show how an increase in world commodity prices would affect the costs of food baskets around the world and how higher food costs will impact food security, particularly in developing countries. In general, we find that countries where corn is the major food grain experience larger increases in food basket cost while countries where rice is the major food grain have smaller food basket cost increases."
Food Prices: Cheap No More December 6, 2007 issue of the The Economist, subtitled: Rising incomes in Asia and ethanol subsidies in America have put an end to a long era of falling food prices. Excerpt: " As the price of one crop shoots up, farmers plant it to take advantage, switching land from other uses. So a rise in wheat prices has knock-on effects on other crops. Rice prices have hit records this year, although their rise has been slower. The Economist's food-price index is now at its highest since it began in 1845, having risen by one-third in the past year. "
Food versus Fuel in the United States

September 2007. Executive summary from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.Subtitled, "Can Both Win in the Era of Ethanol?" Report finds that "expanded U.S. biofuel production will not likely result in more global hunger." Excerpt: "Ethanol production has had a profoundimpact on U.S. agriculture in recent years. Now that more than two billion bushels of U.S. corn are used for ethanol production, a legitimate question is continually being asked—are people going hungry due to the seemingly insatiable U.S. demand for fuel? This paper looks at the relationship between U.S. biofuel production and access to food."

Grain Prices' Rise May Linger for Some Time September 28, 2007. "All Things Considered" audio program, National Public Radio, under 5 minutes
Corn’s rising stock divides farmers September 20, 2007. Associated Press. Subtitled "Ethanol boom pits producers versus feed users."
Wild times for Wisconsin ag commodities (UW resource) Posted July 9, 2007 by Dr. Ed Jesse, UW-Madison agricultural economist. Article captures the inter-related markets that the bio-economy already affects.