Earth Policy Institute suggests moratorium on launching new ethanol plants

Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says there is little reliable data available to correctly gauge how much grain is needed to feed ethanol distilleries. The federal government says 60 million tons of corn from the 2008 harvest will go to ethanol plants. EPI predicts nearly 140 million tons. So why worry about a few million tons of corn? Food prices around the world.
Apparently the U.S. Department of Agriculture uses only once source -- the Renewable Fuels Association -- for info when determining the number and size of ethanol plants under construction. EPI drew on four sources. But no one seems to have an accurate and up-to-date list. By cross referencing and applying the numbers, EPI estimates that the 139 million tons of corn needed to serve all the plants going online will take up half of the country's projected 2008 harvest. And what would the country get from this massive share of the total corn harvest? 15 billion gallons of ethanol; about six percent of the U.S. fuel needs.

Food prices everywhere would be affected by grabbing such a large of the country's food supply. Either other grains would make up for the corn loss, affecting those prices, or exports would decrease, again affecting prices around the world.

According to Brown, Iowa could actually have to import corn because demand from ethanol plants in the state would outstrip the state's corn harvest.

In one final point, Brown says the grain needed to fill up a 25-gallon fuel tank with ethanol could feed one person for a full year. Brown says creating a crop-based automotive fuel economy could lead to many other problems. He suggests a moratorium on licensing new distilleries until more accurate data can be accumulated to know the effect of ethanol production on corn harvests.

[Source: Lester Brown /]

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