“It’s not merely the feed that the steers and the chickens and the pigs and the turkeys ate; it’s not just the source of the flour and the oil and the leavenings, the glycerides and coloring in the processed foods; it’s not just sweetening the soft drinks or lending a shine to the magazine cover over by the checkout,” journalist Michael Pollan writes. “There are some 45,000 items in the average American supermarket, and more than a quarter of them contain corn.” That makes corn perhaps most important food item in the world.
Some lawmakers are catching on.
They’re encouraging the federal government to relax its RFS standards and allow people to eat, rather than burn, corn. “As the worst drought in more than 50 years withers the Midwest corn crop, 25 U.S. senators urged the Environmental Protection Agency to cut the mandate that requires fuel blenders to add grain-based ethanol to gasoline,” Reuters reported on Aug. 7. That would be a step in the right direction.
It would be better to simply repeal the mandate altogether and allow ethanol to compete on a level playing field with old-fashioned gasoline. Less corn in our fuel would leave more available for people and animals to eat. As a bonus, fuel efficiency for American drivers would increase, because ethanol has a third less energy than gasoline.
Ethanol, because it’s popular in corn-growing states such as Iowa and Nebraska, was once thought to be politically untouchable. But at the end of last year lawmakers finally scrapped a tax subsidy that paid refiners to blend ethanol into gasoline. The subsidy had cost Americans some $20 billion over three decades. “Fiscal conservatives joined liberal environmentalists to kill it, with help from a diverse coalition of outside groups,” The New York Times explained. And, as politicians must have noted by now, the world didn’t end.
Free-market advocates have been arguing for years that the government should stop picking winners and losers in the food and fuel industries. Now, it should finally be possible to build a coalition to kill the ethanol RFS. The movement could start with people who eat. If it needs to, it should be able to build from there.