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U.S. and European policies, which call for increased production of ethanol and other biofuels to displace fossil fuels and possibly reduce global warming, could result in more deaths and diseases worldwide. Counter-intuitive, no? Well, according to a release from the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), here's why making more biofuels may be detrimental to our health:
Increased production of biofuels increases the price of food worldwide by diverting crops and cropland from feeding people to feeding motor vehicles. Higher food prices, in turn, condemn more people to chronic hunger and "absolute poverty" (defined as income less than $1.25 per day). But hunger and poverty are leading causes of premature death and excess disease worldwide. Therefore, higher biofuel production would increase death and disease.
The AAPS points to research conducted by the World Bank that indicates that increases in biofuel production from 2004 to 2010 has already pushed more than 35 million people into absolute poverty in third-world countries. Using statistics from the World Health Organization, Dr. Indur Goklany, a science and technology policy analyst for the U.S. Department of the Interior, estimates that the increased amount of people living in absolute poverty has led to at least 192,000 additional deaths per year. Goklany claims that death and disease from poverty are proven, whereas the loss of life and illnesses linked directly to global warming are hypothetical.

[Source: Association of American Physicians and Surgeons | Image: Agência Brasil – Wikimedia Commons]
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Biofuels Policy May Kill 200,000 Per Year in the Third World

TUCSON, Ariz., March 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- U.S. and European policy to increase production of ethanol and other biofuels to displace fossil fuels is supposed to help human health by reducing "global warming." Instead it has added to the global burden of death and disease.

Increased production of biofuels increases the price of food worldwide by diverting crops and cropland from feeding people to feeding motor vehicles. Higher food prices, in turn, condemn more people to chronic hunger and "absolute poverty" (defined as income less than $1.25 per day). But hunger and poverty are leading causes of premature death and excess disease worldwide. Therefore, higher biofuel production would increase death and disease.

Research by the World Bank indicates that the increase in biofuels production over 2004 levels would push more than 35 million additional people into absolute poverty in 2010 in developing countries. Using statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Indur Goklany estimates that this would lead to at least 192,000 excess deaths per year, plus disease resulting in the loss of 6.7 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) per year. These exceed the estimated annual toll of 141,000 deaths and 5.4 million lost DALYs that the World Health Organization attributes to global warming. Thus, developed world policies intended to mitigate global warming probably have increased death and disease in developing countries rather than reducing them. Goklany also notes that death and disease from poverty are a fact, whereas death and disease from global warming are hypothetical.

Thus, the biofuel remedy for global warming may be worse than the disease it purports to alleviate.

Goklany was associated with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) off and on over a 20-year period as an author, expert reviewer, and U.S. delegate. His analysis is published in the spring 2011 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (www.jpands.org/vol16no1/goklany.pdf), the official journal of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).

AAPS is a national organization of physicians in all specialties, founded in 1943 to protect the practice of private medicine and the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship (www.aapsonline.org).


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  • 36 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      The thing nobody notes is that increased biofuel production always occurs when oil prices rise. When you understand how completely dependent agribusiness is on petroleum, then you know that food prices go up when oil goes up.

      Even if there was an unending supply of food, the same people from 04-10 would have been pushed to poverty simply because they spent all their money transporting that food.
      • 3 Years Ago
      What drives me nuts is that some biofuels are created from non-edible material and even waste products. Just because you CAN make biofuel from new food products doesn't mean you HAVE to.
        • 3 Years Ago
        It's a false choice anyway. Food crop production has gone up, not down, as biofuel production has risen. There's huge slack capacity in the world ag sector, both in advanced and poor countries.

        There's more than enough food being produced already for everyone. Hunger is caused not by inadequate supply but by that supply not getting where it's needed, usually because of violent conflict, extreme repression, catastrophic economic mismanagement, or natural disaster. And the solution to extreme poverty is not bankrupting agriculture in a futile effort to bring prices down to levels "affordable" to desperate ragpickers, but to lift the desperate out of poverty and bring them into the global economy, as hundreds of millions have done in the last generation.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Population of India in 1960: 425 million
      Population of India in 2009: 1.2 billion

      Population of China in 1960: 667 million
      Population of China 2009: 1.3 billion

      Population of Iran in 1960: 22 million
      Population of Iran in 2009: 73 million

      Population of Kenya in 1960: 8 million
      Population of Kenya in 2009: 40 million

      Four countries. 49 years. 1.5 Billion extra people.

      The problem is not lack of corn. It is a lack of condemns.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Using facts from the CIA World Factbook:

        India has a population density of 403 people per square km. of land. If the whole world had that density, there would be 60 billion people.

        If India is abundant enough to feed its 1.2 billion people, the it does not need our corn.

        If India is not abundant enough to feed its 1.2 billion people, then nature has a way of taking care of that.
        • 3 Years Ago
        There's too many people in the world? That's brilliant! It must have taken seven brain cells to come up with that one. Did you know that people with your viewpoint have been around for hundreds of years and were wrong predicting the famine at one billion world people as you are today with 8 billion?

        When people are starving it's an evolution problem, evolution of the brain. Too many people and not enough food happens from the onset of Idiocracy. It's common knowledge that the world's airable land is not nearly all used. When it is, (tens of billions of humans to go) people need to be smart enough (evolution of the brain) to build upward, and build elsewhere.

        He who strives to live a productive, knowedgable, civil, and moral life, and lives in a mostly free country, will never be hungry. He who lives in a not free country, needs to remove his leadership, and then proceed with the former (like the lybian rebels).

        Say it to yourself everyday before bed "the world is abundant"..."the universe is abundant"...
      • 3 Years Ago
      AAPS would save more lives if they went after the food commodity market speculators who really are driving up food prices.

      The Department of Interior is entirely captured by the oil industry. Which is why oil companies are getting permits to drill offshore using disaster recovery plans written BEFORE the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, as if it had never happened.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Mark, you are confusing cost-push with demand-pull. Printing money causes demand pull inflation. We don't have any problems with demand-pull. Cost push happens during supply shocks, rampant speculation, labor issues, or increases in the cost of raw materials due to production costs (which ultimately leads to supply problems).

        Not all inflation can be passed along to the customer. Some competitive marketplaces don't allow for inflation to be passed along to the customer; instead, the producer's margins suffer. Second, the problem is not global and I have no idea why the author said the problem was global based upon China. China peg!

        Finally, and most importantly, we have no reason to believe The Kraken is about to rear its ugly head b/c we are drilling, exploring, and cutting deals with foreign countries to increase the total energy supply. If we fail to raise supply, then people can start sounding the alarm bells, but it seems ridiculous to talk about inflation in the United States when our money supply has just undergone the biggest retraction since the Great Depression, and we are running 9% unemployment.
        • 3 Years Ago
        The US has a problem with inflation? That's news to me. I thought we were printing money b/c deflation was about to wipe out an entire generation of Americans by making their assets worthless and their debts unpayable.

        Furthermore, the oil industry does not own the department of the interior. We are drilling b/c peak oil puts almost all pricing power in the hands of speculators not oil producing nations. Obama has also made a very strange (politically strange) deal with Brazil. The United States is going to export ethanol to Brazil's ethanol-friendly transportation sector, and they are going to export oil to America's oil-friendly transportation sector. The deal makes good economic sense, but when was the last time we had energy policy that made any economic sense?

        As for this press release, it makes only one poignant observation about the hypothetical deaths from global warming and the real deaths of malnutrition. However, biofuels are not always made from food stuffs nor do they use arable land. If undeveloped nations wish to starve their own people in order to make biofuels, the US and Europe can hardly be blamed for their poor decision-making.
        • 3 Years Ago
        not quite Mark_BC

        Bernanke can't print fast enough to balance the budget.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Prices are going up because Bernanke is printing trillions of dollars to balance the budget.
      • 3 Years Ago
      You guys realize the AAPS is a political group that also denies AIDS is caused by HIV, yes?

      http://gas2.org/2011/04/07/gop-puppet-group-aaps-moves-to-block-ethanol-and-biofuels/
      • 3 Years Ago
      Turns out the author of this "report" is neither a climate scientist or expert in agriculture, he is not a healthcare professional, medical doctor or member of AAPS - he is an electrical engineer from Michigan State College whose opinion DOES NOT reflect AAPS or its members.

      As corn price rises so does the cost of beef since 88% of US corn is animal feed. This means your Big Mac will cost more. Hmm, less Big Macs, lower cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, etc. = lower healthcare costs. Winning?

      • 3 Years Ago
      The underlying assumption is that increased biofuel production would also increase food prices, by shifting land from food to fuel production. But unless biofuels are heavily subsidized or fuel prices get excessive, that won't be the case, as food crops have a much higher economic return than fuel crops. The result is biofuels will mainly be grown on land unsuitable for crops, or when there is a surplus of food crops.

      A much bigger cause of food price increases is increases in the cost of fuels to grow and ship food crops. Under the right conditions, biofuel production could actually help lower food prices by reducing fuel costs.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Americans, starving? dunno about that but food quality has steadily dropped since i've been on this planet. And corn prices started shooting skywards in 2005 when e10 was first mandated. Correlation? nah.

      Whether it be speculation or some other force, that's how the cookie crumbles in our financially complex world. Biofuels from corn seem problematic, and algae biofuels look possible but haven't panned out in the real world.

      A more interesting study would be the effects of aldehyde emissions from ethanol. I have heard that urban Brazil stinks badly for this reason. I have yet to hear a study on the health effects however.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Both gasoline and Diesel emissions contain aldehyde's, its a result of incomplete combustion.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Do they?
        Probably because there is e10 in gasoline now :)

        aledhydes come from alcohols, to my knowledge..

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldehyde#Oxidative_routes

        From diesel? dunno....
        • 3 Years Ago
        Both gasoline and diesel emissions contain aldehyde's even without ethanol, aldehyde emissions do increase as the ethanol content increase tho, but a three way catalytic converter (most cars made after '93) should get rid of most of these types of emissions. Also keep in mind while we discuss regulating these types of emissions, gasoline and diesel emission still contain far more types of pollution and carcinogens such as benzene.
      • 3 Years Ago
      What complete nonsense. But this is nothing new from the UN and World Bank.

      http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/in-defense-of-biofuels

      A Merril Lynch study published by the Wall Street Journal has shown that biofuels kept oil from rising 15% higher than its already brutal peak in 2008, denying OPEC more than $180 billion in oil revenue. That money was helpful to us but vital to the poor.

      If you want to know the real enemy of the world poor, look at OPEC.

      http://www.defenddemocracy.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11781372&Itemid=0

      "People need to understand this: OPEC's price rigging amounts to a huge extremely regressive tax on the entire world economy. Setting oil prices at $100/bbl is harmful to the advanced industrial countries, but it is brutally destructive to the third world. It is one thing to pay $100/bbl for oil when you live in a country where the average worker makes $45,000 per year. It is quite another when you make $1000 per year. Effectively, the high oil price amounts to taking hundreds of billions of dollars away from the world's poorest people and giving it to the world's richest people.

      "Think about this: In 2006, Saudi Arabia, with a population of 24 million people (15% of whom work) raked in $200 billion in foreign exchange from its oil exports. In the same year, Kenya, with a population of 36 million people (the majority of whom work) earned $2.5 billion in foreign exchange in exports of all categories combined. Distributed elsewhere, the $200 billion taken by the Saudis for their overpriced oil would double the foreign exchange of 80 countries comparable to Kenya.

      "By switching to an open source fuel economy, we could make such redistribution possible. Instead of paying out to buy their oil from OPEC, tropical third world countries could grow their own fuel, and not only that, gain precious income by exporting ethanol to the US, Europe, and Japan, where huge markets for such produce would exist. Effectively, we could take something like a trillion dollars a year now going to the oil cartel, and redirect it to the world agricultural sector instead -- without about half going to advanced sector farmers and then other half going to the third world. This would create a huge financial engine for world development, and allow hundreds of millions of people to be lifted out of poverty. They would then become customers for our industry, and create jobs and economic growth here. Instead of selling controllig blocks of stock of our banks and media organizations to Saudi princes, we could be selling tractors to Africa. That is the way forward for achieving a just and prosperous world."
        • 3 Years Ago
        Carney,

        Nobody can compete with OPEC, they're the opposite of a free market. They should totally be done away with. Although I agree with you that small economy countries would benefit from oil prices not being left up to OPEC thus dropping, "everybody working" in one country is not necessarily equal to "everybody working" in another country. It's the knowledge level that the tasks you're doing require that determine their market value. Thus social and economic reform and more free laws would do a poverty stricken country much better than the scenario of their oil costing less, but 3 million people's daily job remaining "selling fruit". And it's not about no natural rescources, look at Japan, the classic example for that one.

        3rd world to first world can only come from within.
        Even though caring where the oil prices come from has an impact, wealth comes from knowledge and freedom and the desire to be civil, which creates billions more dollars (because money is infinite) than it would saving the people of a 3rd world country a few bucks.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Excellent point, Carney. We don't always agree, but this idea of growing fuel (once they get all the kinks worked out) to fairly help other nations as opposed to directly taking tax payer money and giving it away (which I am 100% vehemently opposed to) is a win-win for everyone. Plus, it's not the typical robin hood bs line of stealing from the rich to give to the poor. An idea which I find totally immoral and abhorrent.
        • 3 Years Ago
        OPEC is not a problem right now . . . they are producing oil at full tilt and they are all ignoring quotas. The only country with any spare capacity is Saudi Arabia and they are our friend (mostly) and they are saying they are boosting output to make up for Libya's reduced exports. I believe they are trying but I don't believe they really have the spare capacity to do it.

        The world simply wants more oil than can be produced. And when that happens, the price goes up to ration out the oil to the highest bidder.

        And this is why we need to work extremely hard on alternatives to oil. No one . . . not Republicans, not OPEC, not Saudis, not Democrats, etc. can create more oil for the planet. "Drill, baby, drill" is nothing but faith-based energy policy. You can't drill what you don't have. We've drilled the country for 150+ years . . . it running dry. Yes, there are a few spots that are off-limits but even if we open those it won't make a significant difference. People that tell you otherwise are charlatans or oil lobbyists that just want to make money off that oil.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Oil needs to be significantly higher to help the world's poor and generally the whole world. It should be trading at fair market prices, and then several multiples above this due via taxes to offset its externalitized costs, mostly borne by the world's poor. We need to stop repressing alternative technologies so that consumers have an alternative -- solar panels on their houses powering electric cars.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Mario: First of all that study is for Western Australia so how would it apply to the US? Second of all they don't talk about food/commodity prices in that report that I can find.
        • 3 Years Ago
        There is no real difference between agricultural practices in US and Australia. The crops used are different but both have byproducts that enter into the food industry indirectly.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Yes, a very good point.

        Also the report fails to mention that without the alternate fuel demand, those crops would not be grown.

        Third world poverty and overpopulation will not be alleviated by sending people sustenance to keep living in poverty, and creating further desertification.
        • 3 Years Ago
        *The crops used for ethanol production are different but both have byproducts that enter into the food industry indirectly.
      • 3 Years Ago
      There is enough food . . . the problem is that these people don't have money to buy the food. And if we give completely poor people the food, they'll just reproduce and make the problem bigger. People in desperate economic conditions need to reduce the number of kids they have so they don't keep creating people that will starve.

      Now that makes me sound pretty right-wing . . . but I'm not. In fact it is the right-wing that is annoying the heck out of me on this issue by trying to defund planned parenthood and wanting to cut off any foreign aid for birth control. They are helping create this problem with such views.
        • 3 Years Ago
        food does not feed starving countries, social and economic reform does. Going from 3rd world to 1st world can ONLY come from within a country, similar to what we're seeing in lybia. Except 30ish countries back one side and 0 back the other, so we kind of know which side is 3rd world and which isnt...
        • 3 Years Ago
        Another issue is that we are giving them the food. Local farmers can't compete with free food. Our "aid" undercuts their local economies and makes them completely dependent upon us.

        True aid would be free food for a short time until we can teach them better farming practices so that they can feed themselves.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I agree that malnutrition is an economic problem and not a food supply problem at least for now. Having lived in a developing country for much of my childhood I remember seeing kids going hungry even when there is enough food around.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Well D. Sonnier, I bet you whine about illegal immigration . . . where do you think all those illegal immigrants come from? Why not slow the illegal immigrants by slowing the crushing poverty that creates those illegal immigrants?

        And terrorism . . . some of the terrorism that arises comes from poor nations where young unemployed men buy into anti-USA rhetoric that radicalizes them. Why not drain the swamp before it is filled with muck?

        Look at Afghanistan . . . if we had supplied a small amount of money to them after the USSR pulled out then maybe 9/11 never would have happened. Instead we let it become a breeding ground for terrorism and it ended up costing us trillions.
        • 3 Years Ago
        How is not giving away my money to people causing their problem? Seems like if they want to reduce their population, it's easily within their power. I agree that if those nations cannot afford it, they should not produce the large numbers of children that they cannot support. I do not, however, agree that it is my fault if I don't support them with my tax dollars, nor my responsibility to support them with my tax dollars.

        You clearly can see that the issue is a population that has outgrown their own capacity to produce. Where does the intellectual leap come from that it's anyone else's fault or responsibility than those people?
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