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More Food Crops Being Used for Fuel

April 15, 2011
Plain English Version

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Crops that were used for food are now being converted to fuel to power autos.

The crops are cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil. Developed countries are passing laws mandating more use of nonfossil or biofuels to supplement gas. Emerging economies like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running.

Food prices have been rising in recent months. Many experts are urging countries to reduce their green fuel efforts. They say that the mediocre harvests of some crops contribute to high prices, hunger and political instability.

The World Bank said food prices rose 15 percent from October 2010 to January 2011. The increase put an additional 44 million people in low- and middle-income countries into poverty.

High food prices are causing turmoil in a host of poor countries, including Algeria and Egypt. In Bangladesh palm oil, a common biofuel ingredient, provides crucial nutrition to a poor nation. In the United States, the price of corn rose 73 percent during the second half of 2010. Experts say it may be due to greater use of American corn for bioethanol.

The U.S. Congress has said that biofuel must be 36 billion gallons annually by 2022. The European Union states that 10 percent of transportation fuel must come from renewable sources like biofuel or wind power by 2020. Countries like China, India, Indonesia and Thailand have adopted biofuel targets as well.

Food experts suggest that countries should be flexible when food stocks get low or prices become too high. Experts say the recent rise in oil prices was likely to increase the demand for biofuels.

It is hard to predict how the demand for biofuel will affect the price of food. Sometimes, prices will rise because farmers who formerly grew vegetables now plant crops that can be used for fuel.

For Americans it may mean a few extra cents for a box of cereal, but increases can make corn too expensive for people in poor nations.

The New York Times


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