First there were news stories about skyrocketing tortilla prices in Mexico, thanks in part to the increased use of corn for making ethanol. Now the same thing is happening with pasta prices in Italy. Wheat prices have been rising along with corn and other staple crops, and Italians are protesting the average 20% increase in pasta prices this year.
As the article note, food prices are rising in many parts of the world due to a number of reasons including poor harvests, droughts, and increased production of biofuels. The title of this post comes from Barilla Pasta chariman Guido Barilla:
“Wheat makes up 60% of the price,” he says, pointing to a box of penne on a table. What irks him is not so much the public fuss in Italy, which he dismisses with a shrug, but one of the reasons prices are rising in the first place: the growing use of agricultural crops to make ethanol and other alternative fuels. “Agriculture for energy is an extremely stupid thing,” Barilla says. “It’s very inefficient.”
In related news, one of our local TV stations ran an interesting story on the late news last week talking objectively about ethanol. By ‘objective’ I mean a story that’s not 100% positive about making fuel out of corn. Considering Minnesota is one of the hotbeds of ethanol use and production, this is a somewhat controversial step the local news took. As part of their ongoing series of stories on energy and biofuels, the station put a poll up asking respondents their views on ethanol. This poll was noticed by the local branch of the American Lung Association, who have become big advocates of E85 in the last few years as part of their clean-air initiatives. The ALA sent around email asking E85 supporters to vote on the poll, and somehow this made it to the US Department of Energy, who sent it around their offices (albeit too late to influence the poll). Well, the DOE’s attempt to influence the poll has made both local and national news. I doubt anything other than mild embarrassment will come from this, but it’s interesting to note anyway.
I do find it interesting that the ALA has latched onto E85 as the wonder fuel of choice for cleaner air. It’s well and good that they advocate for cleaning up the air we all breathe, but their support of E85 is somewhat off base in my opinion. Promoting ethanol as renewable fuel misses the point (that the original ethanol news story makes) that the inputs of energy (mostly fossil fuels), fertilizer and water are such that while ethanol can be thought of as kinda-renewable, it sure isn’t sustainable for any long period of time… increasing production of ethanol will drop our usage of petroleum a small amount while potentially driving up food costs and doing more damage to our croplands and the environment. It’s the unwillingness or inability of advocacy groups like the ALA to see all sides of an issue that drives me me crazy.
If you’re going to convert grain into alcohol, I prefer to make the kind that matches up well with hamburgers or bratwurst… but that’s just me.