By Ernest Istook
Drought. War. Poverty.
These are leading causes of hunger, according to the United Nations. Soon we may add another.
Across the globe, people are discovering it's a new contributor to world hunger. Led by the United States, governments are paying companies billions to make ethanol from corn and other crops. The result: these crops are diverted from the food supply, creating artificial shortages and higher prices.
Even record harvests haven't suppressed food prices. Instead, prices are soaring to all-time highs.
Corn that traded around $2 a bushel just two years ago is now well over $5 a bushel. The impact ripples through the food chain of milk, butter, eggs, flour, pasta and everything else, because dairy cattle, beef cattle, poultry and swine depend on the corn for their feed. When chicken feed doesn't cost chicken feed anymore, then neither does anything else.
Other grains, like wheat, are also at record highs because farmers are planting less wheat and more corn, thanks to the ethanol incentives. Less supply, plus more world demand, means higher prices for wheat products, too, from flour to bread to pasta.
Full-scale food riots may arise in some parts of the world, as more and more grain is diverted into fuel production. The Earth Policy Institute reports that ethanol-related food protests occurred last year in Mexico, Italy, Pakistan and Indonesia. A price-driven stampede killed three and injured 31 at a supermarket in China.
"We are witnessing the beginning of one of the great tragedies of history," the EPI proclaimed in January. "The United States, in a misguided effort to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into fuel for cars, is generating global food insecurity on a scale never seen before."