Thursday Roundup: Food or Fuel?

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The main story on the front page of two major newspapers this morning is the rising price of agricultural products.

The New York Times writes that we are burning our food for fuel, and that this new demand is raising prices and fears of hunger. In this story, reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal tracks cassava chips exported from Thailand. Most of this food is sent to China where it is turned into biofuel.

“Each year, an ever larger portion of the world’s crops — cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil — is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running,” Rosenthal writes. “Cassava is a relatively new entrant in the biofuel stream.”

The price of cassava chips has doubled since 2008, however, and all food costs are rising. Now that rapeseed is being used for fuel in Europe and corn and sugar cane in the Americas is being transformed into ethanol, biofuels are contributing to higher food costs.

The Times notes that there are other factors at work — such as bad weather and higher oil prices. The Times doesn’t mention seed costs and dwindling fertilizer. The point is that fuel is competing with food.

The Boston Globe looks at the rising price for cotton, which is now at about $1.60 a pound, four times the price of 2002. The price of cotton is up 150 percent since August, reports Jenn Abelson. Analysts expect clothing costs to be up 10 to 20 percent by the end of ’11.

Of course, with like every other farm product, the cost of the crop is a minor part of the final product. The cotton industry trade group figures that the price of jeans would be $2.42 higher because of the cost of raw cotton.

•There is such a thing as the “peace index.” Here is a map showing the relative peacefulness of each state. Note that Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota and North Dakota are the five most peaceful.

Louisiana, Tennessee, Nevada and Florida are the least peaceful.

The researchers tried to rank states according to their “absence of violence.” Their complicated methodology can be found in the full report.

In the meantime, just enjoy the peace map — and be glad you either live around peaceful people or that you live in a place that wimps avoid. 

• Texas is the top producer of wind energy, producing 10,081 megawatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association. 

Iowa and California are second and third, producing over 3,000 MW each.

• USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is still talking about finding a compromise between organic growers and farmers who use genetically-engineered seed. Is there a reasonable solution? 

• Have we mentioned that we think The Atlantic’s obsession with “food” misses everything that food has to do with rural America? I think so

Now we have a very long story at the Atlantic about comparing cuts of beef between long ago and now. There is great interest among young foodies about butchering and author Andrew Beahrs tells us all about a meat cutter he knows. 

All of which is fine and dandy. If people want to spend their lives worshipping what they stick in their mouths, it’s okay by us. But in the meantime, the livestock subcommittee of the House Ag Committee is busy holding hearings on new regulations that would attempt to rebalance power in the livestock markets. The USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration has proposed rules that would give ranchers and farmers more power in their dealings with livestock buyers. 

It’s a big deal, and the regulations are getting hammered by the industry. Maybe if The Atlantic would look up and see what’s beyond its dinner plate the attention my help get these regulations adopted. 

 

 

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