Should We Use Food Crops For Food, Not Fuel?

by updated 2012/07/11

The above photo is of an ethanol manufacturing plant in the middle of the U.S. corn belt. The U.S Department of Agriculture announced last Friday, May 9th, that because of weather caused late planting, U.S. corn production could be down more than 7% from 2007’s level. This caused a worrisome prediction of even higher World corn and food prices in the year to come. Approximately 35% of the 2008 corn harvest will be used for ethanol production.

A reader left a link to Oil Heat America in a comment the other day. He correctly said: “If all oil heat users were to switch over to a B5 blend of biodegradable oil, we would help conserve 400 Millions gallons of regular household heating oil.” Doing this, the cost would be similar to costs now and the same heating equipment could be used. If you look at the OilHeatAmerica site you can see the details. They also have a thorough FAQ with answers to a lot of general heating questions. This is an organization lobbying for the oil heat industry. Although I suppose there could be concern in the oil heating industry about losing market share to solar, gas, geothermal, or other technologies, I am making no judgment about Oil Heat America or their parent group, the National Oilheat Research Alliance, only disclosing what I found.

My concern about this idea is exactly the same concern I have had for the past year about ethanol and other biofuels for our cars and trucks. Using food crops like soy and corn for heating oil is no different. As another commentator recently put it, “We need to feed our stomachs before we need to feed our cars”  Using corn ethanol sounds good in theory, but as we can see from all the corn, and even soy production being diverted to biofuels like ethanol, using food for purposes other than food can backfire. I believe we eat way too much in the way of corn based food in this world, but the fact remains that we do. Remove even a small percentage of that corn from the food chain and prices go up and shortages, real, or perceived, result.

Most of the crops that the OilheatAmerica site lists as being used for heating oil seem to be food crops. I think that the oil heating industry will be fighting a losing battle unless the list can be shortened to include non-food crops and crops that don’t compete for space on the world’s farmlands. Using food crops for non-food purposes may not be the entire reason for rising food prices and shortages. Speculation in the commodities market is also playing a role. But it still is not a good idea to use food to run our cars, heat our homes or power our businesses, until we van do so without impacting the world’s food supply.

Some biofuels are not made from raw food crops. One I can think of now is the biodiesel made from used cooking oil. I know we need alternatives to imported crude oil. I also know that conservation alone will not solve our current energy problems. We need to further develop and make more cost effective, wind, solar, geothermal, and even ocean wave technologies, but we need new ideas and technologies in addition to those. We need to use the world’s farmland for food before we divert it to heating oil and automotive fuel.

This is the Food Not Bombs logo. Maybe we need to design a logo for Food Not Fuel!

Anyone want to try?

Here is the Oil Heat America list. There are a few items that are not foods, but most are.

•Avocado •Brazil Nut •Calendula •Cashew •Castor Bean •Coconut •Coffee •Corn •Cotton •Euphorbia •Hazelnut •Hemp •Jojoba •Linseed •Lupine •Macadamia Nut •Oat •Oil Palm •Olive Tree •Palm •Peanut •Pecan •Pumpkin Seed •Rapeseed •Rice •Rubber Seed •Safflower •Sesame •Soybean •Sunflower •Tung Oil Tree



Should we use food crops for fuel?

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Will Sig

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