With prices for rice, wheat, and corn soaring, food-related unrest has broken out in places such as Haiti, Indonesia, and Afghanistan. Several countries have blocked the export of grain. There is even talk that governments could fall if they cannot bring food costs down.Not surprisingly, Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore was unavailable for comment.
One factor being blamed for the price hikes is the use of government subsidies to promote the use of corn for ethanol production. An estimated 30% of America's corn crop now goes to fuel, not food.
"I don't think anybody knows precisely how much ethanol contributes to the run-up in food prices, but the contribution is clearly substantial," a professor of applied economics and law at the University of Minnesota, C. Ford Runge, said. A study by a Washington think tank, the International Food Policy Research Institute, indicated that between a quarter and a third of the recent hike in commodities prices is attributable to biofuels.
Last year, Mr. Runge and a colleague, Benjamin Senauer, wrote an article in Foreign Affairs, "How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor."
"We were criticized for being alarmist at the time," Mr. Runge said. "I think our views, looking back a year, were probably too conservative."