Rich Tucker

In a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, a local widow who’s inherited $50 million feels a bit chilly, so she tosses wads of greenbacks into a fireplace. After all, she now has “money to burn.”

It makes a universal point: people don’t burn valuable things. Thus, it must be true that, even in this age of obesity, Americans don’t consider food to be valuable.

Wait -- how’s that possible? After all, we need food to live.

True. But it’s also federal policy that we must burn almost half of our nation’s annual corn crop.

“Fuel refiners are required to blend 13.2 billion gallons of corn alcohol into their petroleum-based fuels this year or face fines, thanks to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which included ethanol in its Renewable Fuel Standard,” The Washington Times noted recently. “The ethanol requirement forces fuel refiners to buy nearly 40 percent of the corn harvest to meet their mandates, meaning fewer bushels are available for animal feed and human consumption.”

This is especially a problem this year. “Corn prices -- which have already surged about 50 percent in the past two months -- could go significantly higher if current trends hold up, and the effects might be felt throughout the economy,” CNBC reports. “Price momentum indicates corn could rise at least 21 percent over the next six months, putting $9.50 a bushel or even higher into play, according to a model used by the American Restaurant Association.”

And there’s no help in sight. “No matter how much of the U.S. corn crop is ruined by drought, no matter how high corn prices get, no matter how many people in developing countries are imperiled, the RFS requires that billions of bushels of corn be used to fuel cars rather than feed livestock and people,” Marlo Lewis explains. And the amount we’ll burn instead of eating is only going to climb in the years ahead. Federal policy requirements for ethanol use climb from some 4 billion gallons in 2006 to about 15 billion gallons in 2015.

For better or for worse, corn is in most things we eat.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for