Sunday, April 27, 2008

world grain production has fallen short of consumption in
seven of the last eight years....

Just when it seemed that things could not get much worse,
the United States, the world’s breadbasket, is planning to double
the share of its grain harvest going to fuel ethanol—from 16
percent of the 2006 crop to 30 percent or so of the 2008 crop.
With this enormous growth in the U.S. capacity to convert grain
into fuel, the world price of grain is moving up toward its oil equivalent
value. This ill-conceived U.S. effort to reduce its oil
insecurity has helped drive world grain prices to all-time highs,

Although attention commonly focuses on energy use on the
farm, agriculture accounts for only one fifth of the energy used
in the U.S. food system. Transport, processing, packaging, marketing,
and kitchen preparation of food are responsible for the
rest. The U.S. food economy uses as much energy as the entire
economy of the United Kingdom.30

The 14 percent of energy used in the food system to move
goods from farmer to consumer is equal to two thirds of the
energy used to produce the food. And an estimated 16 percent
of food system energy use is devoted to canning, freezing, and
drying food—everything from frozen orange juice concentrate
to canned peas.3

The most energy-intensive segment of the food chain is the
kitchen. Much more energy is used to refrigerate and prepare
food in the home than is used to produce it in the first place. The
big energy user in the food system is the kitchen refrigerator, not
the farm tractor. While oil dominates the production end of the
food system, electricity dominates the consumption end. With
higher energy prices, the modern food system that evolved when
oil was cheap will not survive as it is now structured.36

From an agricultural vantage point, the world’s appetite for
crop-based fuels is insatiable. The grain required to fill an SUV’s
25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a
whole year. If the entire U.S. grain harvest were to be converted
to ethanol, it would satisfy at most 18 percent of U.S. automotive
fuel needs.57

The price of grain is now keyed to the price of oil.

Although there are no alternatives to food for people, there
are alternatives to using food-based fuels. For example, the 4
percent of U.S. automotive fuel currently supplied from ethanol
could be achieved several times over—and at a fraction of the
cost—simply by raising auto fuel-efficiency standards by 20

predictions or history?

as the world oil crisis deepens
and the property values of suburban homes plummet.”71
The food sector will be affected in two ways. Food will
become more costly as higher oil prices drive up production and
transport costs.

As oil costs rise, diets will be altered as people
move down the food chain and as they consume more local, seasonally
produced food. Diets will thus become more closely
attuned to local products and more seasonal in nature.

Air transport, both passenger travel and freight, will suffer
as jet fuel prices climb, simply because fuel is the biggest airline
operating expense. Although industry projections show air passenger
travel growing by some 5 percent a year for the next
decade, this seems highly unlikely. Cheap airfares may soon
become history.7

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