Friday, July 20, 2007

Food for Thought

I saw on the network news tonight how the cost of food is soaring. Frankly, I can't recall the price of anything we eat ever dropping. Milk at nearly $5 a gallon? Bread up 14%? I know beef is at ridiculous highs. I guess we can thank the members of Congress from the corn states, right? After all, they are the ones who pushed the use of corn for making ethanol. All those fancy environmental excuses for essentially giving a windfall to their constituent farmers. Now, I am all for helping the nation's farmers, but didn't anyone on Capitol Hill see that in making corn the basis for our new biofuel initiative that we would boost the price of the commodity at the center of that initiative? The price of corn today is up a whopping 52% a bushel! That's why the cost of everything we eat is going up. Virtually everything on supermarket shelves has a corn or corn syrup component. It's utter stupidity on the part of our elected officials in Washington to assume that pushing ethanol use was going to help us.

There's a corollary issue here that hasn't been addressed anywhere that I can see. Let's assume that we can somehow stabilize corn prices. I am wondering what happens when the biofuel initiative meets global warming. What happens when an entire season's corn harvest is wiped out by an historic summer of record heat? What happens when ethanol producers have to punt because they can't get the corn they need? Or, even more to the point, if the corn output is threatened by forces of nature, who gets to decide where the supplies go? If yields are down, is what's left equally shared by energy and food producers? Or does one industry automatically have priority over the other? Maybe I am being naive. Maybe this is being discussed at the highest levels of government or, at the very least, in the corridors of the Agriculture Department. Frankly, given how poorly our federal government anticipates any calamity (Katrina anyone?), I don't think anyone in Washington knows or cares.

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