Guatemalan Children Starve Due To Ethanol Mandates

by Hans Bader on January 8, 2013 · 5 comments

in Energy, Ethanol, International

The New York Times reports that ethanol and biofuel mandates in the U.S. and Europe are fueling rising hunger in Guatemala, which now has the fourth-highest rate of child malnutrition in the world — higher than in many less developed countries in Africa:

With its corn-based diet and proximity to the United States, Central America has long been vulnerable to economic riptides related to the United States’ corn policy. Now that the United States is using 40 percent of its crop to make biofuel, it is not surprising that tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which imports nearly half of its corn.

In a country where most families must spend about two thirds of their income on food, ‘the average Guatemalan is now hungrier because of biofuel development.’. . .Roughly 50 percent of the nation’s children are chronically malnourished, the fourth-highest rate in the world, according to the United Nations.

The American renewable fuel standard mandates that an increasing volume of biofuel be blended into the nation’s vehicle fuel supply each year to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and to bolster the nation’s energy security. Similarly, by 2020, transportation fuels in Europe will have to contain 10 percent biofuel.

Biofuel mandates have shrunk the amount of land used for producing food in countries like Guatemala:

Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel.  In a globalized world, the expansion of the biofuels industry has contributed to spikes in food prices and a shortage of land for food-based agriculture in poor corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America because the raw material is grown wherever it is cheapest.

Many small farmers in Guatemala have effectively been displaced, leaving their children hungry and physically stunted:

in rural areas, subsistence farmers struggle to find a place to sow their seeds. On a recent morning, José Antonio Alvarado was harvesting his corn crop on the narrow median of Highway 2 as trucks zoomed by.  “We’re farming here because there is no other land, and I have to feed my family,” said Mr. Alvarado, pointing to his sons Alejandro and José, who are 4 and 6 but appear to be much younger, a sign of chronic malnutrition.

In 2008, a Washington Post editorial by two prominent environmentalists, “Ethanol’s Failed Promise,” explained how ethanol subsidies and mandates have harmed the environment and spawned hunger across the world:

“Turning one-fourth of our corn into fuel is affecting global food prices. U.S. food prices are rising at twice the rate of inflation, hitting the pocketbooks of lower-income Americans and people living on fixed incomes.  .  .Deadly food riots have broken out in dozens of nations in the past few months, most recently in Haiti and Egypt. World Bank President Robert Zoellick warns of a global food emergency.” Moreover, note Lester Pearson and Jonathan Lewis, “food-to-fuel mandates are leading to increased environmental damage. First, producing ethanol requires huge amounts of energy — most of which comes from coal. Second, the production process creates a number of hazardous byproducts. . .Third, food-to-fuel mandates are helping drive up the price of agricultural staples, leading to significant changes in land use with major environmental harm. Here in the United States, farmers are pulling land out of the federal conservation program, threatening fragile habitats. . .Most troubling, though, is that the higher food prices caused in large part by food-to-fuel mandates create incentives for global deforestation, including in the Amazon basin. As Time Magazine reported this month, huge swaths of forest are being cleared for agricultural development. The result is devastating: We lose an ecological treasure and critical habitat for endangered species, as well as the world’s largest ‘carbon sink.’ And when the forests are cleared and the land plowed for farming, the carbon that had been sequestered in the plants and soil is released. Princeton scholar Tim Searchinger has modeled this impact and reports in Science magazine that the net impact of the food-to-fuel push will be an increase in global carbon emissions — and thus a catalyst for climate change.”

In Human Events, Deroy Murdock discussed how rising food prices resulting from ethanol forced Haitians to literally eat dirt (dirt cookies made of vegetable oil, salt, and dirt), and fueled violent protests in unstable “powder kegs” like Pakistan and Egypt.

The federal government has forced up the ethanol content of gasoline through EPA regulations, heedless of the fact that ethanol makes gasoline costlier and dirtier, increases ozone pollution, and increases the death toll from smog and air pollution. Ethanol mandates also result in deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution.  By driving up food prices, they have fueled Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, Egypt, Yemen and other poor countries in the Middle East. The Obama Administration remains wedded to ethanol mandates despite widespread criticism from across the political spectrum.

Robert White January 8, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Just a few holes in the story! Here is the response from the Renewable Fuels Association: http://www.ethanolrfa.org/exchange/entry/dont-believe-everything-you-read.-fact-check-on-nyts-guatemala-corn-ethanol/

Stephen January 12, 2013 at 11:35 am

There were far many more holes in your posted article than the root article for this story. You may view my response on your rebuttal article’s page. The article was soured based on facts, which I did not verify. However, the statistics did not address causation and were faulty by admission and disregard of basic economic principles. The relevant economic principles not accounted for were opportunity costs (production possibility frontier) in a finite economic system of resources.

Moreover, one should state that the rebuttal was the equivalent of falling in love with an oil companies endorsement of fossil fuels. Many would decry such things due to bias. The same conflict of interest manifest in the source of your article. In short, the article fails on substance and basic economic principle.

Walter Brockman January 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm

There is no factual basis for this NY Times article or the Post article that is sighted. In fact, it is downright wrong and misleading which leads me to believe that the author is not a journalist but a propagandist, if you insist you’re a journalist, please put “Yellow” before journalist.

People starve for many reasons, namely, due to greed in their local areas, regions or countries but it is that country’s primary responsibility for their citizens, not the farmers of the United States.

And, by the way, corn for ethanol is not even made from the same corn. Even if US farmers planted corn for tortillas, who’s going to pay for the crops? And, if the crops were tortilla corn, then we would lose feed for livestock and poultry.

PS. it’s 28% net of the corn crop that is used for ethanol, 12% is returned to the marketplace in the form of distillers grains for livestock and poultry feed.

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