Courtesy Reuters


Tom Daschle

The article "How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor," by C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer (May/June 2007), recycles the "food versus fuel" mythology that has been rebutted time and again. Despite the authors' allegations, the facts are clear: U.S. corn is used to feed mostly animals, not people; converting the starch from a portion of the U.S. corn crop into biofuels is an efficient way to reduce the United States' dangerous dependence on imported oil; and the recent firming of grain prices in the United States -- and therefore the world -- will help, not hurt, farmers in food-deficit nations. Most important, current production facilities for grain-based biofuels are a critical platform for launching the next generation of advanced cellulosic and waste-derived biofuel technologies.

To their credit, Runge and Senauer recognize that ending the United States' suicidal dependence on fossil fuels will require a comprehensive energy policy. They are absolutely right: any solution to the world's twin energy and climate crises will need to be broad and multifaceted. Existing energy sources must be used more efficiently through increased fuel-efficiency requirements, better building codes and appliance standards, and market-driven demand-side management programs, such as ones that give utility companies profit incentives to increase energy efficiency and conservation. The playing field for renewable sources of energy -- such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy -- must be leveled with tax incentives that reduce the production costs for renewable-energy technologies. And the increasingly perilous costs of climate change (which is caused by the unbridled use of fossil fuels) must be stemmed with a binding international regulatory framework for greenhouse gases that includes the United States and China, the world's largest emitters of such gases today.

Unfortunately, Runge and Senauer distort the central role that biofuels will play in any such comprehensive solution, both in the United States and abroad. Far from starving the world's poor, as they claim, biofuels can help the world meet its energy needs

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