With all the finger pointing over food vs. fuel, it's refreshing to see a new survey that puts the whole issue in a brighter light for farmers.
A recent bipartisan survey of 1,200 registered voters shows that the public supports increased use of ethanol in our nation's fuel supply — by a 2:1 margin.
Conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Public Opinion Strategies, the survey was commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association. (Admittedly, I suppose there is some sort of self-serving element here.)
Asked if they favor or oppose continuing to increase use of ethanol, an impressive 59% come out in favor, while just 30% oppose. Support is even higher among environmentalists at 63%.
And the highlight in my book is that by a 71% to 17% margin, voters believe the rising cost of oil and gas is the primary reason food prices have been going up, rather than the rising use of corn-based ethanol.
Other numbers support the ethanol front, too. For example, the Iowa State Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) estimates that the growth in ethanol production and use has actually caused gas prices to be 29-40¢ lower than we'd otherwise see at the pump.
Speaking of fuel prices, here's a startling factoid. Chinese consumers bought nearly 1 million new autos in 2000, and 8 million in 2007. Do you think that kind of demand could affect fuel prices?
Aaron Reding, Kentucky Soybean Association president, voices his criticism over the misinformation about food vs. fuel in a letter to the editor on page 19. In it, he points out a positive from a Merrill Lynch study that claims current fuel prices would be 15% higher if it weren't for biofuels. Push the pencil to that and the price for $4 gas would be 60¢ higher.
Even the White House Council of Economic Advisors has weighed in on the issue and estimates that just a measly 0.25% of food price inflation is a result of U.S. ethanol production.
And without ethanol to expand the available fuel supply, the world's refiners would need an extra 1.9 million barrels of crude oil a day, or 2.2% of current world production, according to LECG.
That's all just assessing the economics of biofuels and not addressing the environmental benefits of biofuels. That's a whole other story. As I recall the gasohol days, the idea was to produce a cleaner fuel that had fewer harmful emissions. We weren't so concerned about the dollars and cents.
Today, it's clear that ethanol and other biofuels have their place in our energy program from both an economic and environmental standpoint. Oh yeah, I also like that side benefit of truly being less dependent on foreign oil. How could that be a bad thing?