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
1 Tink *~*~*

Photo well illustrates the stark contrast between the green of mother nature and the concrete of “progress”. Where did you take it?

Tink *~*~*
My Mobile Adventures *~*~*

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2 Inspirit

Anything should be used for the primary purpose it is supposed to serve before it is put to some other use. Food crops should be used for food, and when that is satisfactorily done, the remaining proportion should be used for fuel.

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3 Tara

I completely agree with this post. It is hard to imagine using food to fuel our cars, when so many people need to eat that food.

Taras last blog post..Huge Easter Sale on All Apparel at Revival Ink!

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4 Bob

I love the image as well, nicely suited to your post, I agree lets find other means then the food supply to run our cars and heat our homes.

Bobs last blog post..Lunar Halo, Conjunction and Family Images

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5 Organic Eating Daily

Isn’t the advanced use of things like food crops for fuel (and not food) wreaking crazy havoc in all kinds of ways? Economically, environmentally, etc.? And further, isn’t the solution it proposes really just a very limited, very politically-motivated, very short-term and nearly meaningless solution? And what happened to the use of grasslands / switchgrass for alternative fuel production? Or the bigger question — start eliminating cars and figure out something different in terms of urban planning, commuting and work versus home life?

Organic Eating Dailys last blog post..What Is Cacao?

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6 soge shirts

I think food needs to be used as fuel sometimes especially with our energy crises out there. Its true that some people are malnourished and don’t get enough food. To counterbalance that people there are people eating way too much.

soge shirtss last blog post..M. Night Shyamalan effect

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7 sky

Namaste’ Will as you know this is a complex issue, people have worked on hydrogen cell vehicles,and e-cars, solar powered etc and they have their own problems there, certainly for an e-car (p0ersonal example only here) with the amount of driving I have to do living where I live in the country just to survive for example,(work , getting supplies etc) an e-car would allow me to not even make it into the city. Solar vehicle uhm nope wouldnt work either we simply dont get the sun up here needed for such needs either. Some places circumstances this can work but not for many over all in the population. Not to mention how many people have the MONEY to go out and spends many thousands of dollars and change from their 2 thousand dollar car, to get something alternative?

There is a crisis period when it comes to what can be used. I don’t think fast food places are going anywhere , any time soo and this is where *our* personal oil comes from for our vehicles. Recycling their use. But for every alternative, there can BECOME a con to the pro.

Heck when just horses and buggies were used the methane dispensed into the atmosphere was the thorn in the side and they talked about back then all the problems it was causing or going to cause.

I think there would be NO issues if people simply kept their own poulation in check, and not put such a strain on the resources, the same way they look at other animals and say oh oh we gotta keep them in check the wolves are eating all the caribou, can’t have that then the hunters have nothing to shoot.

We are a population out of control and in *excess*, if I lived in a city I would be biking to work. In the winter time car pooling up, or finding work close enough I could walk. It’s about sacrifice and compromise and doing the best as individuals as we can.

I don’t know what the hype is all about just corn anyways…you can make alternative fuel from all kinds of things not just corn. But there again it is a FOOD crop, and it is the one being most focused on for ethanol production, I know in canada they are getting all hyped over *ethanol* production, pumping zillions of dollars into it, and I don’t think they have truly thought it through.

I think ethanol production is going to flop on in the long run in mass production. The amounts needed, theres no way it can be sustained either, so eventually like anything else, just like oil is producing insanity around the world, so will any alternative fuel.

I often think about simply checking out of mainstream life, and trying to just BE, but then the gov’t will come after for taxes on the land we supposedly own, but not really own. And well, you can’t even be a hill billy in peace anymore, your forced to participate in the insanity. So I do what I can on my own to rebel and buck the growing trend. I’m the only one I can *control* Anow my brain hurts. *grin*

metta
sky

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8 Jennifer Robin

This is not a yes or no issue. There’s sustainability to consider, which ethanol is not for several reasons. The statistics I’ve seen on ethanol say that it takes 10 gallons of energy from petroleum for every 1 gallon of energy from ethanol. How is that saving oil? That said, there may still be viable answers/alternatives out there from biomass.

Jennifer Robins last blog post..Photo Contest!

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9 Geoserv

STUMBLED!

I think there is enough for both uses, but government needs to regulate it, so that only X number of farmers can produce crops for ethanol. Do a lottery or something to determine who gets to grow crops for ethanol.

VOTED for this post at:

http://www.newsdots.com/finance/should-we-use-food-crops-for-food-not-fuel/

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10 Will

Hey Geoserv – Thanks for the Stumble and vote. Those things really increase readers and, hopefully, comments!

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11 heidi

This is a great post. I never thought about this before (I should have). Food is most important but we to think about being less wasteful in that regard as well. Love your blog.

heidis last blog post..Chapped Lips, Dry Skin, Cuts, Burns-Try This Natural Calendula (Marigold) Recipe-Easy And Works

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12 Will

Welcome Heidi, thanks for your comment. Many would make the point that using food for fuel can not be considered wasteful. But even still, taking that food out of the food supply to make fuel for our cars is the prceived problem. It is not real clear how much of the recent food shortages and increases in prices are related to bio-fuel production, but until we know the impact, we need to use food crops for food, not fuel.

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13 Biofuels by Stan

I believe that using food crops for the production of biofuels is shortsighted and will only give short term relief. The influence on world food prices is far too great and poor people are starving for rich people’s energy needs.

We need to find technological solutions that solve problems, like using waste biomass to produce biodiesel and make bigger efforts to exploit clean renewable energy sources like solar power and wind power.

Biofuels by Stans last blog post..Biofuels or Food?

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14 Will

I agree Stan, we really need to change our thinking and start funding research into energy technology the way we fund research into weapons technology.

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15 Tony McGurk

I agree Will. No expense spared for Governments to build up their military firepower.

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16 Tony

I agree Will. No expense spared for Governments to build up their military firepower.
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17 Cindy Davison

It is an environmental way to use the food crops as the fuel.On the other hand it is also cheap.The price of gas increases day by day which will be threatening the daily life.

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18 Angela

I agree with the lottery system for determing which farmers get to produce crop strickly for fuel vs food. I also think this would keep a lot of farmers from losing their farms in the long run.

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19 Will

Interestingly if you look at the poll results, there are many people who think we should use food crops for fuel. It does not look like any of them commented though. Don’t be scared! Everyone is nice here.

I did get one email saying that with all the corn additives in our food, it might be better for our health if MORE was used for fuel. Interesting point. Corn is in way too much of what we eat. Here is an interesting post on that topic:

http://willtaft.com/health/are-we-really-made-of-corn/
.

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20 Ruth

If the WASTE biomass from all the food crops we produce was used for fuel production and the edible parts were redirected to the food chain we’d probably have more available ethanol and less food instability. Banning HFCS and GMOs would help too, if not for the energy costs then at least the health effects. (GMOs actually kill the soil they’re grown in, there have been studies in India that prove it.) The healthiest thing is to grow your own, I think. It’s all too little too late anyway,things are just getting started now that should’ve been done thirty years ago. Thanks a lot Ronnie for screwing up all of President Carter’s work on the issue!

It’s kind of scary what we end up putting in our bodies, sometimes without even realizing it. I picked up the latest refills of my son’s medications last week (he has ADHD), the information sheets that came with them listed their ingredients. One of them contains SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE! That’s a common ingredient in bath & body products (shampoo, etc); it has a by product (1, 4, Dioxane) that is known to cause CANCER! I mean, seriously, would you eat your shampoo? Gross. Next appointment I’m talking to the doc about taking him off it.

To get back to the fuel issue, at some point the discussion will be moot anyway. The oil will be gone, or so scarce it might as well be, and we’ll be back to bikes, foot power, and draft animals, just like it was before oil was discovered. Maybe it’s time to start looking at moving things in that direction so that when the crash comes it won’t be such a shock, rather than spinning our wheels and chasing pipe dreams. Not everyone will be willing to do it, of course, but it’s worth a try as at least a partial solution.
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21 Tony McGurk

A well written post Will. Something I have never given much thought to. If there’s enough food to make some of it into fuel then there’s enough to feed everyone. The problem is GREED. We have a rural current affairs type show on TV here in Australia called Landline & it has at times reported on farmers being paid by the Govt. to plough certain crops into the ground to keep prices & all that economic stuff that I don’t really understand in balance. I remember one where dairy farmers were scuttling vats of milk & dumping it all down the drain at the Govt’s direction. A Govt officiall was asked by a reporter why this milk couldn’t be powdered & given to countries in famine rather than just waste a precious food product. His answer: “Oh we couldn’t do that it’d be financially detrimental”. The mighty dollar is definitely more important to the Governmental & Corporate Powers than people’s lives & welfare. Better to let underprivileged adults & children starve to death than lose a buck from their coffers.
Uh oh I’m ranting, sorry…

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22 Tony

A well written post Will. Something I have never given much thought to. If there’s enough food to make some of it into fuel then there’s enough to feed everyone. The problem is GREED. We have a rural current affairs type show on TV here in Australia called Landline & it has at times reported on farmers being paid by the Govt. to plough certain crops into the ground to keep prices & all that economic stuff that I don’t really understand in balance. I remember one where dairy farmers were scuttling vats of milk & dumping it all down the drain at the Govt’s direction. A Govt officiall was asked by a reporter why this milk couldn’t be powdered & given to countries in famine rather than just waste a precious food product. His answer: “Oh we couldn’t do that it’d be financially detrimental”. The mighty dollar is definitely more important to the Governmental & Corporate Powers than people’s lives & welfare. Better to let underprivileged adults & children starve to death than lose a buck from their coffers.
Uh oh I’m ranting, sorry…
Tony recently posted..Cartoon for 24-01-2011My Profile

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23 Flora

It is a sad world when it is more important to gave fuel than food. And even though we’ve seen the problems and food deficit growing crops for fuel on soil that could have been used for edible crops, no-one seems to think we are facing a difficult problem. Namely, we are running out of solutions for potent heating fuels. I agree with some of the commentators and the writer of this article in that we should come up with a new bio-friendly technology for our energy problems asap!

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24 Alison

Hi Matt,
I’m writing an article and I’m using this as a source. Do you know the name of the other commentator who said “We need to feed our stomachs before we need to feed our cars”?
Thanks!

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25 Will

That comment was posted in another thread and the commentator found the quote on another, unknown to me, site. So the originator of the quote is not known. Sorry. But if you need to you can cite that I unequivocally agree with the statement!

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