Using food for fuel is a really bad idea

Here’s a story from the New York Times that’s worth using up one of your 20 allotted free stories for the month:

The starchy cassava root has long been an important ingredient in everything from tapioca pudding and ice cream to paper and animal feed.

But last year, 98 percent of cassava chips exported from Thailand, the world’s largest cassava exporter, went to just one place and almost all for one purpose: to China to make biofuel. Driven by new demand, Thai exports of cassava chips have increased nearly fourfold since 2008, and the price of cassava has roughly doubled.

Across the globe, food prices are rising dramatically, even as developing nations adopt ever more ambitious goals for converting to nonfossil fuels. In the United States, the price of corn went up 73 percent in the last half of 2010 alone. According to The Times, “The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that its index of food prices was the highest in its more than 20 years of existence.”

Experts in the global food supply don’t argue for giving up on biofuels, but they think a more flexible approach is needed when prices increase. “The policy really has to be food first,” Hans Timmer, director of the Development Prospects Group of the World Bank told The Times. “The problems occur when you set targets for biofuels irrespective of the prices of other commodities.”

That, and encouraging more research into using non-food sources for biofuels – remember President Bush’s promise to boost research into using switch grass?

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