It is always foolish for a country to order the burning of its food supply, but it takes a special kind of depravity to do it in the midst of a severe drought. Yet that is precisely what the misguided federal ethanol mandate is doing, requiring the burning of 40 percent of the corn supply at a time of shortages and sky-high prices. If no action is taken, the impact will be another spike in grocery prices next year, as well as devastation for farmers and ranchers attempting to cope with higher feed prices.
The severity of the situation is being expressed across the political spectrum and across the world.
Two Democratic governors - Bev Purdue of North Carolina and Mike Beebe of Arkansas - have officially petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to grant a waiver from the ethanol mandate, officially known as the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS). They have now been joined by a bipartisan group of 26 senators and 156 House members.
The head of the Democratic Governors Association, arch-liberal Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley wrote the EPA in support of the waiver: "In 2012, more than 40 percent of the U.S. annual corn supply was to be used to meet the RFS corn based ethanol requirements established annually by the EPA. If you were to exercise your statutory authority to waive the RFS standards for the next year, it would make more than 5 billion bushels of corn available to the marketplace for animal feed and foodstuffs, driving down costs and significantly lessening the financial impact."
A study by professors at Purdue University quantified the price impact, finding that a strong waiver could reduce the price of corn by as much as $1.30 per bushel next year. Gasoline prices would also be lower because ethanol is more expensive than gasoline.
Jose Graziano da Silva, the director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is also urging the United States to suspend the mandate. In a recent Financial Times op-ed, he warned: "The worst drought for 50 years is inflicting huge damage on the US maize crop, with serious consequences for the overall international food supply." He went on to urge: "An immediate, temporary suspension of that mandate would give some respite to the market and allow more of the crop to be channeled towards food and feed uses."
I seldom agree with the United Nations, but this time they got it right. Burning our corn supply by mixing it generously with tax dollars in the form of ethanol is foolish in the best of times. In the face of a potential global food crisis it is the height of depravity.
So far, instead of providing relief from the food-burning mandate, the Obama administration's emergency response has been to buy up meat and poultry at taxpayer expense. It's an expensive non-solution to a very real global problem - food scarcity exacerbated by food burning.
The EPA has now opened up a public comment docket on waiving the ethanol mandate for next year. The comments they receive will likely be overwhelmingly in favor of a waiver - but the ethanol dream dies hard. The Obama administration may refuse to stand up to its environmental allies, even in the face of serious economic and human suffering and a broad bipartisan consensus.
Our country's ethanol experiment has been a failure in good times and bad, but never more tragically than now. Whether the EPA grants the waiver or not, the American people should elect a Congress willing to repeal the destructive ethanol mandate completely and put an end to mandated food burning.