Flash! Breaking News! Food Prices Up!

By May 3, 2008Economy, Energy

A month or two ago, the “world hunger crisis” burst upon the scene, suddenly seizing the media high ground and dropping horror stories and analyses down on the unsuspecting public. A remarkable example of a herd mentality marrying up with pack journalism running with the boys on the bus….oh, and ethanol’s to blame.

Not to say there’s no connection between ethanol and food prices — in fact, it’s been argued for years — but the explosion of coverage raises suspicions. It’s as if editors who have long disliked government subsidies for ethanol found a new angle that more effectively made the case against this particular renewable fuel.

Alternative theory: Environmentalists who had for decades promoted alternative fuels turned to their global master plan, Page 472, the chapter entitled, “The Promoting Phase is Over. Time to Pull the Rug Out on Ethanol.” Because no energy is always preferable.

Cliff May* of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies seems to share some of the same suspicions. In a smart column, “The Hunger,” he notes The Washington Post’s recent page one story, “The Global Food Crisis: Siphoning Off Corn to Fuel Our Cars,” and comments,

The Post article asserts that corn prices have “been climbing for months on the back of booming government-subsidized ethanol programs.” This has quickly become the conventional wisdom. But while free market types (like me) are skeptical about both subsidies and tariffs, there is actually no evidence that these market manipulations have been a major factor behind rising prices for corn or other grains. Researchers Robert Zubrin and Gal Luft point out that the total U.S. corn crop has increased 45% since 2002. The amount of corn available for food and feed has increased 34 percent — after the part used for ethanol has been taken out.

But haven’t those farmers cut back on other crops — soy and wheat, for example — to plant more corn and hasn’t that led to increases in the prices of those grains? Apparently not. As Zubrin and Luft also note, U.S. soy plantings this year are expected to be up 18%, wheat plantings 6%, and overall, U.S farm exports are up 23%.

Well, then, it’s global warming!

The Post article also blames higher prices on global warming. But there is no solid evidence to suggest that whatever global climate change we have experienced in recent years – an increase of 0.31 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since the mid-1970s is the best current estimate — has reduced food production. In fact, a warmer climate should mean a longer growing season allowing for more food production.

At any rate, there’s an odd media/economic/public relations/activist/media dynamic going on here, a dynamic that historically translates into political pressure and impetuous policymaking. Be on guard.

*May is a supporter of federal mandates that would encourage development and use of flex-fuel vehicles. So he’s not an anti-ethanol guy, by any means.

UPDATE (3:10 p.m.): Over at Planet Gore, Henry Payne rebuts what he takes to be May’s ethanol touting, arguing for a close connection between ethanol as fuel as world food prices. Our post was more about the sudden shift among the public-opinion influencers, which, as said, engenders suspicions.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Rodney says:

    In any study, the fact remains that ethanol is a domestically produced renewable fuel made from corn and is increasing our ability to become energy independent. This nation should focus on the real issues in the biofuels debate:
     Not once has a US corn farmer funded Al-Qaeda or other terrorists groups.
     Not once has a US corn farmer produced nuclear weapons to be used against the U.S.
     Not once has a US corn farmer bombed the World Trade Center.
     Not once has a US corn farmer gone to war killing allied and US soldiers.
     Not once has a US corn farmer kidnapped US citizens and held them hostage for political power.
     Not once has a US corn farmer formed a fuel cartel to control the amount of fuel available to the US consumer (OPEC).
     Not once has a US corn farmer embargoed the shipment of fuel to the US consumer.
    By continuing to beat down the only source of energy independence we know, we are essentially strengthening our alliance with forces looking to destroy us. We must become energy independent and I for one am using ethanol and doing my part.

  • Jack says:

    I understand the sense of paranoia, that there is a conspiracy between journalists and ….. somebody – the government, the hedge funds, the environmentalists, the religious right – name your favorite fringe group you love to hate. It could well be true.

    But also the media is interested in sensationalism – it’s how to sell (papers, air time, advertising, clicks). They jump on waves, the same way that politicians and investors/speculators do.

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