US Ethanol Production Raises Food Prices and Deters Sustainable Agriculture

Industrial corn production is a thorn in the side of sustainable agriculture in the US, hand in hand with CAFOs, soybeans, and other heavily subsidized, heavily chemicalized and mechanized agricultural sectors. As it is most commonly produced, corn is basically the antithesis to sustainable agriculture. This is perhaps even more true now that a significant portion of industrial corn is grown for ethanol production, contributing to the rising price of food.

The US is the largest producer of corn in the world, however the type of corn grown in industrial agriculture, and for ethanol, is not the same kind of sweet corn we eat off the cob. Field corn needs to be processed and broken down to become edible, and is made into high fructose corn syrup and the many other additives and fillers that characterize the majority of our food. It is also used in the feed that fattens most of the meat we eat. Since 2006, US policies have used tax credits to pour more and more corn into ethanol production. Today 39% of US produced field corn is made into ethanol.

While ethanol is supposed to help provide an alternative to oil consumption, the production of field corn ironically requires lots of petroleum-based inputs.In addition, because more corn is being diverted to ethanol, the price of corn is on the rise, and as a result, the price of meat, dairy, eggs, and all the other millions of corn-based products are also going up.

Industrial corn that feeds the meat and processed food industries isn't at all sustainable to begin with. But the subsidization and tax credit policies that are in place for corn for ethanol production are even less so. It's not a black and white situation, and certainly we do need to find and encourage alternatives to oil. But the utilization of industrial corn for ethanol production takes us further down the rabbit hole, into a quagmire of unsustainable agriculture that contributes to global food insecurity. The more our government uses tax dollars to supports and provide padding for unsustainable agriculture, the tougher it will be   to crawl out of the mess of industrial corn and get back on track.

photo credit: the food illusion