Food Versus Fuel is Passe

Commentary, Energy, Les Routledge

Over time, we have read a lot about the food-versus-fuel discussion including here at the Frontier Centre.

While I can agree that market distorting subsidies should be eliminated, I do not buy into the narrative that using agricultural production capacity to produce energy is inherently evil.

Soaring food inflation is the result of “immoral” policies in the United States which divert crops for use in the production of biofuels instead of food, according to the chairman of one of the world’s largest food companies.

I see nothing wrong with Brazil using sugar cane to produce ethanol without subsidies and I wish that the US would drop its import tariffs of that product.  If US or Canadian operations could produce ethanol without subsidies and compete with gasoline, I would also see no problem in selling my grain for that use.  I do not see why one potential customer for my grain should be telling me that I cannot sell to another one.  To me, that attitude is offensive and borders on being immoral.  It is the type of attitude that has saddled Canadian farmers with the Wheat Board.

If diverting agriculture production to produce energy is immoral, I wonder how the Nestle CEO feels about more land being dedicated to producing cotton?

This spring, many farmers in southern states will be planting cotton in ground where they used to grow corn, soybeans or wheat — spurred on by cotton prices that have soared as clothing makers clamor for more and poor harvests crimp supply.

Where does one draw the line on defining what is and is not offensive?  Should we be concerned about the amount of land dedicated to producing cut flowers for the European and American market or is that trade a vital element of producing income for developing countries?

Should we be critical of companies that purchase cocoa and sugar from third world nations that displaces land from food production or should that trade be perceived as contributing to their economic development?

Is it immoral for countries in Europe to be importing flax to produce paint, flooring, and other non-food products or is that pattern producing green products that wean us off a reliance on fossil fuels?

If society decides it is important to allocate land to preserve natural habitat in rich countries, is that acceptable or is it taking land out of production and causing hunger in the world?

I would like to see a future emerge where the agricultural industry experiences fewer market distorting subsidies and barriers to trade.  On the other hand, I would like to see new markets emerge beyond the food sector for the productive capability of my land.  I do not want to be a captive producer to a handful of multinational food companies or state-controlled food trading agencies.  A good way to avoid that future is to seek to develop a diversity of markets and customers for ag production beyond the food sector.

While I agree with questions about using state subsidies to support ethanol production or other energy production from agricultural materials, I really take offence at the entire proposition of producing energy from the land being labelled immoral.