Independence, MO — Having just returned from a visit to Iowa, it appears the U.S. is heading for one of its biggest corn crops ever. We saw many thousands of acres of beautiful “waving fields” of corn. We also saw a total of one wind-powered electric turbine.

I couldn’t help but wonder just how much of this crop would end up as human food and how much would be directed toward producing ethanol to be burned up by my fellow Americans and me. Having been intimately active three years ago in a huge bio-diesel project in Ethiopia, it was a question I valiantly tried to research for an answer, but I soon discovered a finite answer is very complex and far beyond my pay grade.

However, we do know that upwards of 40 percent of today’s American corn is used to produce ethanol and that corn prices have more than doubled in recent years. This has diverted acreage from other crops and indirectly increased food prices worldwide.

Missouri’s Renewable Fuel Standard Act makes it obligatory for Missourians to use 10 percent ethanol in the gas we use in our cars, and there is a push to raise this to 15 percent. In Brazil the ratio is around 25 percent ethanol. In fact, Brazil and the United States are responsible for 88 percent of the world’s ethanol fuel production. That doesn’t make it economically or ethically right or wrong, but it certainly demonstrates the power of the ethanol lobby.

But commercially produced ethanol is not without its critics. David Pimental of Cornell University claims the combined energy to create one gallon of ethanol is 131,000 BTUs. Inasmuch as one gallon produces only 77,000 BTUs of energy there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs.

“Abusing our precious croplands,” he says, “to grow corn for an energy-inefficient process that yields low-grade automobile fuel amounts to unsustainable, subsidized food burning.”

No one can say where will lead. But it is safe to say there is something disturbing about 6 percent of the world’s population – the U.S. – using more than five times the energy and food resources per capita than that used by the other humans who share space on this same globe.



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