Biofuel and Blather: Apologists Try to Pin Ill-advised Farm Subsidy on Al Gore

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Corporate apologists, politicians (and their media stooges) are twisting the language and misrepresenting the truth in an effort to deflect responsibility for a global food crisis that is being exacerbated by biofuel farm subsidies.

The issue dusted up last week when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the European Union Commissioner for Agriculture Marian Fischer Boel blamed the global food shortage on people in India and China who are shifting their diet toward meat and away from vegetables.

But the facts get in the way: the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported in response that grain consumption went up in the last year by just over four million tonnes in India and slightly less than seven million tonnes in China, while in the U.S. it climbed more than 33 million tonnes. And the bulk of that increase has gone into the subsidized biofuel crop – a demand that has driven corn prices in the U.S. from $2 per bushel when President George Bush began his ethanol push to $5 per bushel today.

In Canada, where production of biofuel has tripled since 2003, the federal government – which has been otherwise resistant to any policy that might address climate change – has tried to paint the new farm subsidy as an environmental gesture.

“Good for the environment and good for farmers,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said as he announced a $1.5-billion ecoENERGY plan last summer to get more ethanol and biodiesel pouring into Canadian gas tanks. “Our government’s investment in biofuels is a double win.”

But the spin gets worse. In the same story that included the above quote, Gordon Quaiattini, president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, calls criticism of the diversion of foodcrops to biofuels, “intellectually dishonest.”

Quaiattini says biofuels have nothing to with growing world hunger, that there is plenty of food to go around. The problem, he says, is the world’s poorest citizens can no longer afford to buy rice, corn and wheat.

Unable – or unwilling – to connect the rising price driven by his own industry to affordability in the developing world, Quaiattini instead tries to blame the whole thing on rising oil prices, which are certainly a consideration, but a minor one compared to the competitive effect of tens of millions of tonnes of food being diverted to make a “green” energy source that is not even very green.

The push for biofuel is nothing short of a huge farm subsidy, a traditional corporate boondoggle that is putting unforgivable pressure on global food stocks.

More unforgivable yet, however, is the cheap political points that some people are trying to score as a result. For example, Rex Murphy, the self-styled Canadian iconoclast, cuddles up to government and corporate position makers once again, arguing (accurately) that biofuels are partly to blame for world food shortages, but then blaming, of all people, Al Gore for the whole problem.

In truth, the former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner was warning a year ago that our turn to biofuels had inherent dangers. But in clinging to a “debate about global warming” that exists only in the minds of a shrinking and risible crowd of idealogues-for-hire, Murphy thrashes around in his thesaurus trying ever more desperately to make ludicrous arguments sound cogent.

No luck Rex. No luck at all.

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