A Race to Hunger

SYDNEY – Spectators at February’s Daytona 500 in Florida were handed green flags to wave in celebration of the news that the race’s stock cars now use gasoline with 15% corn-based ethanol. It was the start of a season-long television marketing campaign to sell the merits of biofuel to Americans.

On the surface, the self-proclaimed “greening of NASCAR” (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) is merely a transparent (and, one suspects, ill-fated) exercise in an environmental form of whitewashing for the sport – call it “greenwashing.” But the partnership between a beloved American pastime and the biofuel lobby also marks the latest attempt to sway public opinion in favor of a truly irresponsible policy.

The United States spends about $6 billion a year on federal support for ethanol production through tax credits, tariffs, and other programs. Thanks to this financial assistance, one-sixth of the world’s corn supply is burned in American cars. That is enough corn to feed 350 million people for an entire year.

Government support of rapid growth in biofuel production has contributed to disarray in food production. Indeed, as a result of official policy in the US and Europe, including aggressive production targets, biofuel consumed more than 6.5% of global grain output and 8% of the world’s vegetable oil in 2010, up from 2% of grain supplies and virtually no vegetable oil in 2004.