Did we say ‘Feed the Future’? Oh! We meant ‘Feed Car Engines’

by | Mar 3, 2011

The Obama Administration has a respectable story to tell on food security in lots of ways: its Feed the Future initiative, particularly, put it in a genuine leadership position among G8 governments (although there are now lots of question marks over whether Congress will allow the program to go forward).

But on one aspect of US food policy, there’s a deafening silence: the government’s support for corn-based ethanol. Here’s Robert Hormats, Under-Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs, on USAID’s blog:

World food prices have been increasing over the past six months, due to weather-related production losses and strong global demand. The growing demand is fueled by rapid expansion of middle-class households in emerging markets.

Er, hello? Let’s stop by at FAO’s Food Price Index (February data out today – you guessed it, another record high). What do they think is driving cereal prices upwards?

The increase in February mostly reflected further gains in international maize prices, driven by strong demand amid tightening supplies, while prices rose marginally in the case of wheat and fell slightly in the case of rice.

In other words, this is mainly about corn. And who’s the biggest corn exporter in the world? The United States.

And where is 40% of US corn production going this year? Ethanol, for use in US car engines.

And will USAID acknowledge that this has anything at all to do with spiking food prices? Don’t hold your breath.

Author

  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is a Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) at New York University, and the author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren't Enough?(Penguin, 2017), a book about the power of deep stories to unlock transformational change. He lives in North Yorkshire and is currently working on political polarisation and learning dry stone walling.