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Runge and Senauer's update to their May/June 2007 essay ''How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor.''
Former Senator Tom Daschle argues that corn-based ethanol offers many benefits -- and few downsides for food stocks. Runge and Senauer reply.
Thanks to high oil prices and hefty subsidies, corn-based ethanol is now all the rage in the United States. But it takes so much supply to keep ethanol production going that the price of corn -- and those of other food staples -- is shooting up around the world. To stop this trend, and prevent even more people from going hungry, Washington must conserve more and diversify ethanol's production inputs.
Supporters see the biotechnology revolution in agriculture as a Promethean step forward, whereas critics see it as the start down a slope to futuristic disaster. The supporters are right about the potential benefits of genetically engineered crops, but the critics are correct that the situation calls for government regulation. Free markets alone will not suffice to realize the new technology's promise while avoiding its pitfalls.
Amid all the fuss over genetically modified food, environmentalists and consumer activists have overlooked a vital challenge for the developing world: food security. As the South's population grows, it will need more food, a more varied and nutritious diet, and better access to the North's markets. Rich countries must do their part by slashing trade barriers to developing countries' goods -- especially in agriculture -- and spreading the biotechnology revolution to the poorest farmers who need it most. But the debacle in Seattle showed how difficult this quest will be.