Ethanol: The word sends shivers of pure pleasure for the international relations specialist part of me.  So many solutions to so many problems. A break from dependence on oil from unstable regions, renewable fuel source, support for the American farmer, and while ethanol packs more of a punch than normal petroleum, it is not digging up more carbon dioxide and introducing it into the atmosphere.

However, as with anything, every action has a reaction.  With ethanol comes a massively increased demand for corn, as is very apparent to me as I drive through the endless cornfields of Indiana on my way to work every morning. Since corn is such an important crop that is tied to other food sources, such as chickens, who eat corn, those prices will rise as well. This is driving up American food prices. The result? According to an article in The New York Times on September 29th the amount of food being purchased by the US government for foreign hunger aid is at a record low.

Who suffers? Obviously the thousands of people in third world countries, especially civil-war torn African countries, who were already going hungry due to insufficient food will go hungrier, but that isn’t all.  Also, as more farms are
being converted to corn, the supply of other diverse food stuffs will decrease and those prices for individual Americans will also rise.  This means not only will the poor of the world feel the burn of ethanol, so too will many poor in our very own United States of America.

Ethanol was hailed as something that would help the poor small farmer both at home and abroad. With more uses for corn, it would in theory drive up prices of corn, making it more profitable for farmers to grow.  Unfortunately, because it is a staple crop, corn is mostly grown by large agribusiness farms.  Additionally, abroad farms will still suffer American price competition due to higher efficiency on American farms and the fact that so many farms have switched over to corn.  A poor farmer from Angola simply cannot compete even if there is more of a demand.

For many reasons, most importantly our current dependence on Middle Eastern oil, I do support ethanol use in American cars.  We simply must be aware that this is not a cure-all. In the end if you can afford it, a hybrid is your most environmentally-friendly, globally conscious choice, and we must push for more research into sustainable fuels.

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