Big Food Steps Up Fight Against Ethanol Mandate (Infographic)

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Ethanol infographic from coalition of livestock and poultry producers (crop)

Ethanol infographic from coalition of livestock and poultry producers (crop)

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Ethanol continues to be a political football, with the alcohol fuel coming under fire from the auto industry, environmental pressure groups, and others.

The latest to line up against the corn-based fuel is a coalition of industrialized livestock and poultry producers that might collectively be called Big Food.

And it last week, it released a study supporting its campaign to get Congress to modify the Renewable Fuel Standard it passed Congress in 2007.

The study, The RFS, Fuel and Food Prices, and the Need for Statutory Flexibility, found that the ethanol mandate has destabilized prices of corn, soybeans, and wheat, causing them to rise, which hurts producers and consumers of food and fuel.

It also found that U.S. oil imports have declined not because of increased ethanol production, but resulting from increased domestic crude oil production and higher gasoline and distillate fuel oil yields.

The study was produced by FarmEcon LLC, an Indiana agricultural and food industry consulting firm.

It was funded by the American Meat Institute, California Dairy Inc., the Milk Producers Cooperative, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Turkey Federation.

To reinforce its case, the coalition released to the media a tidy little infographic showing all the bad things it has identified about ethanol--based largely on the results of the study.

Separately, a paper published by a pair of professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California--Davis concludes that increased ethanol production has not cut gasoline prices.

Corn Ethanol Pump

Corn Ethanol Pump

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The study, Ethanol Production and Gasoline Prices: A Spurious Correlation, says bluntly in its summary:

Some proponents of ethanol have argued that ethanol production greatly lowers gasoline prices, with one industry group claiming it reduced gasoline prices by 89 cents in 2010 and $1.09 in 2011. The estimates have been cited in numerous speeches by Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack. These estimates are based on a series of papers by Xiaodong Du and Dermot Hayes. We show that these results are driven by implausible economic assumptions and spurious statistical correlations.

The pair of new studies follows on the heels of a separate May report that concluded it may be impossible to use the volumes of renewable fuels required by the 2007 act.

The 2007 regulations require 36 billion gallons of ethanol to be included in U.S. vehicle fuel by 2022--a volume more than three times the 11.1 billion gallons used in 2010. For 2015, the requirement is 15 billion gallons.

With U.S. gasoline usage falling steadily due to more fuel efficient vehicles, is ethanol an alt-fuel whose time has come and gone?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (11)
  1. So all the people addicted to low cost corn to feed livestock object to it being used in cars. As dubious as it is too make fuel from corn kernals, it may be more dubious to feed it to cows that develop acidosis.

    Interestingly, after ethanol is made from corn, there is still some left over material to use as feed (though presumably a lower quality feed).

  2. The material left over is distiller's grain. The presumption is incorrect; feed quality increases / rises providing equal or better quality livestock while using equal to lower amounts of distiller's grain as compared to previous feed corn amounts. Distiller's grain is also a high grade fertilizer.


  3. "Big Food" must not mean the farmers who grow corn. We have subsidies to get farmers to produce this, not produce that, etc so the price will not fall too low on the crop being grown. Now we are giving farmers a crop they can grow as much as possible of and have a market for all of it, and the livestock version of "Big Food" complains. No suprise there.

  4. The drought in the mid-west is putting a spotlight on how dubious it is to route 40% of corn to ethanol production for gasoline. Rather than corn, consider ethanol made from switchgrass and other bio-masses. However, using less really is the answer to this blending debate. If you don't need gasoline - you don't need corn ethanol blended in it to lower the energy per gallon. 100% gasoline without ethanol will offer better mpg for drivers. Consider a Volt using 65% electricity and 100% E0 premium gasoline getting 42-43mpg on the highway rather than 40-41mpg using E10. Keep that E15 away from my Volt :)

  5. Ethanol is actually a higher-grade fuel. While its true ethanol has less energy per volume, the thermal efficiency of ethanol is higher than gasoline, which is part of its higher octane. Build a higher-compression engine that is tuned for ethanol, and you'll actually get 15-20% more power or better fuel economy than the same amount of gasoline. Along with the comments above, you get distillers grains as a end product of ethanol extraction, the Food Lobby is just pissed that someone else is paying more money than they are for the subsidized federal Corn, and taking it away from THEM.

    This is such a specious argument, move along, please.

    Get off dirty, carbon fossil fuels now! Sustainable biofuels are the bridge fuel to the future!

  6. Well, I am NOT sure we can grow enough corn to replace all gasolines out there... I like my corn cheap. Ever since the ethanol thing, I haven't been able to buy corns for less than 4 for $1. I don't like that.. :)

  7. 1. Corn is certainly far from being the best way to make ethanol; there are better replacements, gals/per acre returned.

    2. Ethanol is not made from corn set for human use, which accounts for up to 7% of all corn production. It comes from feedstock corn - 90 to 93% of corn production.

    3. Send your complaints to the oil companies who have been buying corn to set people like you on the "hate ethanol for raising corn prices" rampage.


  8. regardless of how you try to spin it ethanol production has directly affected food costs. I can drive less but don't ask me to cut the amount of milk I buy for my kids.

  9. That is not spin; that is fact. Oil production affects your milk buying. Ethanol derived from corn comes from feedstock corn and returns distiller's grain, a higher quality feed. The effect on food is better quality and quantity.

    Ethanol wasn't directly affecting food costs 20-25 years ago when it came from corn.


  10. I'm bridging, I'm bridging :) Got the Volt and hope to drive it on 80% or more electricity. There is an Amerigas station near me which is 100% US-sourced gasoline, not sure if it is ethanol-free or not.

  11. and yet Iowa Governor Brandstad wants to tax the hybrid vehicles to pay for road repair. this while local farmers drive tractors carrying loads of corn or tilling implements that damage the road (all while using tax free off road fuel).

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