To Avoid Wartime Famine, Suspend Corn Ethanol Production

Brad Patty

5 months ago

March 25, 2022

The war in Ukraine means that fields are not getting planted, and Ukraine supplies much of the world’s grains. According to Eric Hansotia, the CEO of Agco, approximately 13% of the world’s total calories —  not just grains — are offline this year because of the war. That raises the specter of famine.

We are able to take steps to buffer global food supplies against this risk, most notably suspending corn-based ethanol production. These steps need to be taken now, so that the crops being planted are secured to global food supplies instead of energy production. The amount of corn that we devote to ethanol production is huge: up to 25% of American corn cropland produces crops for ethanol use. By shifting that corn to food production instead, we could reduce the amount of starvation that is likely to occur from the war. In addition to saving many lives, this policy would also reduce Russia’s capacity to use the stoppage of food production in Ukraine as a lever for obtaining its will.

This proposal will be unpopular with the present administration because it runs counter to their Green agenda. Nevertheless, they should adopt the policy anyway for moral reasons. A similar devotion to a political agenda worsened the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s: because the ruling British government was wedded to a Free Trade agenda, they shipped thousands of tons of grain out of Ireland while the people starved. Given the scale of the famine, there is debate about whether the grain would have been sufficient to completely prevent starvation in Ireland during that period. Nevertheless, it is beyond question that the grain could have buffered the harm.

We are in the same situation today. This proposal will have some second order effects, such as potentially further increasing gasoline prices as part of the fuel production — most American gas is 10% ethanol — will no longer be available, and the missing volume of ethanol would have to be supplemented with extra gasoline instead. Swallowing increased gasoline production, and therefore oil production, would be a second bitter pill for the administration’s Green agenda.

Yet the alternative is to accept potentially widespread starvation, especially in Africa and the Middle East, in order to pursue a favored political agenda at home. The British government of the late 1840s is still held in infamy for its decisions during the potato famine. The Biden administration should make the moral and wise choice, with support from Congress.

About the Author

Brad Patty

Dr. Patty advised US Army units in Iraq on tribal affairs and information operations over more than a decade. His work has received formal commendations from the 30th Heavy Brigade, the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division. He is the author, most recently, of Free Americans: Essays Towards a Rebirth of Liberty. Dr. Patty holds his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Georgia, as well as a Master's in history from Armstrong in Savannah.