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World Bank: Biofuel Boom Spiking Food Prices

Posted on Jul 31, 2008
Wiki Commons / Steve Jurvetson

A World Bank report, held from public view for several months, finds strong evidence that increased production of biofuels such as ethanol has caused a sharp climb in the price of foodstuffs worldwide. “The report stands as a blistering rebuke to the Bush’s administration’s unchecked biofuel boosterism,” argues environmental writer Tom Philpott.

Remember a few weeks ago, when The Guardian leaked word of a “secret” World Bank report that essentially blames U.S. and (to a lesser extent) E.U. biofuel policies for causing the global food crisis?

You know, the food crisis that continues to generate excoriating hunger in the global south?

Well, the World Bank quietly released a modified version of the report this week. Actually, The Guardian posted the original bootleg version, dated April 8, a week after its scoop; I missed it at the time.

Well, now I’ve read both versions, which are substantially the same (the new version has a brief additional section discussing other researchers’ takes on biofuel and food prices). My judgment: This is a bombshell, and a stark embarrassment to the Bush administration and biofuel-loving Democrats in Congress.

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By hippy pam, August 2, 2008 at 6:43 am Link to this comment

HEMP?????YES-what a concept-Grow lots of it and burn it for fuel[as well as all the other uses] AND WE ALL WOULD EAT LOTS AND NOT WANT TO FIGHT WITH ANYONE at ANYTIME-DIDN’T WE TRY TO GO THERE IN THE 60s?

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By Steven Earl Salmony, August 2, 2008 at 5:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Wayne,

You report,
“Vaclav Havel never did choose to stand up and pull the ’stop’ cord on the train!”

But, Wayne, the colossal train is adding cars and accelerating its speed as it proceeds down the track. There is no engineer on the train. Everyone has gone below to stoke the furnace so that the train goes faster and faster. Where it will stop, or how, nobody knows. Conventional wisdom indicates the track is clear ahead and without an endpoint. Widely shared and consensually validated thinking assures everyone on board this train that we can add more and more cars to the train and continuously stoke its furnace with fossil fuels so that the train can keep going at an increasing speed as long as we have fuel to keep the train going. There are no limits to the speed the train can achieve, no limits to the number of cars the engine can pull, and no end to the railroad track. Everything is going as planned and will continue without interruption indefinitely.

Wayne, if this train is a metaphor for the ever manmade global political economy, could you help us understand how magical thinking, arrogance, pyramid-type schemes and greed are governing the seemingly endless growth of the global economy and how the unbridled increase of the leviathan-like global economy cannot be sustained much longer by a relatively small, evidently finite, noticeably frangible planet with the size and make-up of Earth?

And what of the ’stop’ cord on the train, Wayne? I can see it, but cannot yet see how pulling it will do any good because there is no engineer in control. Do you think Vaclav Havel could see that the engine room must have been empty for a long time?


Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

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By nino, August 2, 2008 at 4:47 am Link to this comment

cann4ing is exactly right!!

The lust for more, more, more by soulless corporations is killing the planet and its inhabitancy.

We have to localize!

Food is only the next resource to “peak” based on the mindless infinite growth model.

-fertile land

They call it “overshoot and collapse.” Ever read “Limits to Growth” published in the 70’s?

Where has everyone been?

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By heide, August 1, 2008 at 6:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


the government knows this ,,hemp has been used by humans since the dawn of our birth as a species,,they know this yet they would rather see other humans die
so to thin the population
sick & wrong this is
same thing thats been done since this governments beginnings,, just wrapped up in a prettier package
the killing off of those less worthy,, those they deem not good enough,, the wrong color,or the wrong religion ect…...

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By cann4ing, July 31, 2008 at 10:47 pm Link to this comment

Biofuels provide the neo-liberal World Bank with a convenient excuse to deflect attention to the real source of the world food crisis—multilateral trade agreements that allow a select group of wealthy countries led by the U.S. to dump heavily subsidized agricultural products produced by giant agricultural conglomerates to be dumped in the third world markets at well below the local cost of farming.  This has had a devastating impact on local farms, which stop producing, driving peasants into overcrowded cities.  In Mexico, for example, the peasants are driven northward to border cities where overcrowding produces an overabundance of labor at poverty prices for the relocated factories which previously paid middle class wages in the U.S.  This migration of peasants off the land, then turns northward to the U.S. itself.

During the most recent talks at the WTO, some of the larger third world countries like India stood pat, refusing to allow this scam to go on.  That is why the talks collapsed.

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By webbedouin, July 31, 2008 at 7:23 pm Link to this comment

Biofuel sounds like a job for HEMP!!!

Feeding SUV’s, what a concept.

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By jackpine savage, July 31, 2008 at 6:18 pm Link to this comment


Rising fertilizer costs (and they’ve jumped immensely) correlate to rising petroleum costs, not increases in corn planting for ethanol.  Though corn is a very heavy user of nitrogen.  Much of the cost of fertilizer is the energy needed to break nitrogen free.


There are many plants (really any plant) that can be used to make biofuel.  Ethanol is just alcohol of a very high proof. Corn was chosen because a few giant agri-businesses own a near monopoly on corn.  The majority of US corn is now GMO, when it is used as a fuel stock nobody complains about the GMO aspect.  Plus, it means sales of ferts, herbicides, etc…as it is an intensive crop to grow.

The answer to your biofuel/agricultural questions is generally: Monsanto (or one of its ilk).

The agribusinesses profit from the subsidies on biofuels AND on increased food costs.  Why would they want to use anything except a food crop that they control almost completely?  (There’s no money in switchgrass, et. al. for these corporations.)

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By Frank, July 31, 2008 at 4:04 pm Link to this comment

I didn’t find any mention in the article of fertilizer prices, some of which have risen 200%-300%  (American lawn care industry) in the past year,  due to biofuel production, Ethanol in particular. Corn is a very nitrogen intensive crop to grow, and ethanol crop growers are ramping up their consumption and driving the prices on fertilizer as a result.  This impacts production costs significantly for all food growers that utilize fertilizers.

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By tigger, July 31, 2008 at 3:57 pm Link to this comment

Biofuels, can a scientist not have to use corn to produce this?  I am sure that the government can plant its own garden and subsidize this with gov’t funds.  Thus, saving the economic cash crunch that we are now feeling. The middle class is hard hit a well as the lower class.  I know that nothing is going to get better soon. I am going to be taxed to death, soon not to be able to pay for my medical insurance and quite likely my home.  Will there be more homeless sure!!
I can’t afford to buy a vehicle that uses ethanol, nor can I buy a hybrid. I pay too much for groceries because of the need for more corn, wheat, soy etc…why is that the avg consumer always pays a price?

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By rowman, July 31, 2008 at 3:56 pm Link to this comment

Unbelievable. Just more election / hate mongering.

As far as the U.S goes, this is a problem congress created. As much as you would like to blame bush, your pointing the finger in the wrong direction. You must be terribly inept and blinded by your hate.

Congress created the problem and they do not deserve an out on this. While Pelosi is trying to “save the world”, as she puts it, she is allowing innocent people to starve. It is Shameful.

They are paid to work and solve problems but they would rather try to milk the energy issue for political points. Fire them all!!!!

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