Farmers in the United States are growing the first genetically modified plants grown specifically for putting for fuel rather than producing food.
However, the new GM corn has been met by a barrage of criticism, namely by aid organisations that warn the crop, by diverting more corn into energy production, could worsen the global food crisis – exposed as a significant issue by the famine in Somalia.
Also in opposition of the new corn is the food industry as, not only is it unsuitable for the manufacture that commonly uses corn, but many farmers are concerned about cross-contamination into crops used for human consumption.
The genetically modified corn is being grown on a 5,000 acre site on the edge of America’s “corn belt” in Kansas. It has been developed by the Swiss pesticide company, Syngenta.
Gene Speeds Production of Ethanol
The corn contains an added gene, which speeds up the breakdown of starch into ethanol and therefore produces more ethanol to be put in fuel tanks.
The development of biofuels have been blamed for pushing up the price of food across the globe. The World Bank has reported that food prices are today close to their peak in 2008, and that highly priced food has contributed to the famine in Somalia.
“The temptation to look at food as another form of fuel to use for the energy crisis will exacerbate the food crisis,” says Todd Post from the anti-hunger charity, Bread for the World.
Corn ethanol production has enjoyed a five-year boom, but amidst concerns of the negative effect biofuel production is having on drought and famine in Africa, and with the US debt crisis and the $1.3 trillion in budget cuts forcing Congress to re-think three decades of government subsidies for corn ethanol, this boom could be coming to an abrupt end.
Whilst campaigners increasingly argue that turning corn into ethanol is not environmentally sound and, according to the World Bank, it has also driven up the price of food worldwide, limiting the production of corn ethanol would surely have a negative effect in helping the United States reduce its consumption of fossil fuels.
The fuel sold at petrol stations across America contains 10% ethanol, and, according to a study by environmental scientists in Freese, by 2020, corn energy will displace 7% of the energy supplied by oil.
Oil Reserves Will Not Last Forever
Many oil analysts agree that the world’s conventional oil production will peak sometime between now and 2020. Charles T. Maxwell, the senior energy strategist of C.J Lawrence Inc, wrote:
“Our country’s leaders have three main choices: Taking over someone else’s oil fields until they are depleted; carrying on until the lights go out and Americans are freezing in the dark; or changing our life style by energy conservation while heavily investing in alternative energy sources at higher costs.”
The global demand for cars is accelerating and therefore so is the demand for oil. World demand for conventional oil is outstripping world supply.
In May of this year, Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi told parliament, “We have to look for our own fuel to advert the crisis.”
The viable alternative is of course biofuel, which, according to Dr Bernard Muok, Director of Programmes at the African Center of Technology Studies, could help steer Kenya’s economic growth to ‘unimaginable heights’.
“We have relied so much on oil. A lot of money has been used trying to drill oil with no success. If this money was converted to production of biofuel, we could be talking of other things by now; not a fuel crisis,” said DrMuok.
No More Money for Subsidies
Instead of channelling money into increasing the production of ethanol crops, faced with a $1.3 trillion budget cut, Congress is expected to end $6 billion in subsidies directed to the oil companies that incorporate ethanol in their products.
As revolutions in the Middle East reduces the production of petroleum, the world’s demand for biofuel is greater than ever.
In 2006, former President Clinton described of a vision of a future world without the solutions that biotechnology could bring was bleak, painting a picture of islands sinking in a rising ocean, fertile land turning to dust and more people going hungry.
Now, faced with $1.3 trillion in spending cuts, the former President’s vision appears closer to becoming a reality than ever before.