The energy stored in a bushel of corn can fuel a car or feed a person. And increasingly, thanks t o ethanol mandates and subsidies in the U.S. and biofuel incentives in Europe, crops formerly grown for food or livestock feed are being grown for fuel. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent estimate predicts that this year, for the first time, American farmers will harvest more corn for ethanol than for feed. In Europe some 50% of the rapeseed crop is going into biofuel production while "world-wide about 18% of sugar is being used for biofuel today."
Today, with nearly seven billion mouths to feed, we produce so much food that we think nothing of burning tons of it for fuel. Or at least we think nothing of it in the West. If the price of our breakfast cereal goes up because we're diverting agricultural production to ethanol or biodiesel, it's an annoyance. But if the price of corn or flour doubles or triples in the Third World, where people "are spending 80% of [their] disposable income on food," hundreds of millions of people go hungry.
Add to that, especially in Europe, a paralyzing fear of genetically modified crops, or GMOs. This refusal to use "available technology" in agriculture has halted the multi-decade rise in agricultural productivity that has allowed us, so far, to feed more mouths than many people believed was possible.
"If politicians of this world really want to tackle food security, there's only one decision they have to make: No food for fuel. . . . They just have to say 'No food for fuel,' and supply and demand would balance again."
The world's population is projected to hit nine billion by mid-century, up from 6.7 billion today. So, can we feed all those people? Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe doesn't hesitate. "We can feed nine billion people," he says, with a wave of the hand. And we can provide them with water and fuel. But only if we let the market do its thing.