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KARL'S COLUMN: Not Everybody

by Carolyn Binder

An opinion column in a newspaper widely distributed locally opened with a headline, “Everybody hates ethanol. . . . . “

And I beg to differ.  It could be the writer intended to paraphrase that world famous meteorological  observation, “Everybody TALKS about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” That is not the way it was presented, though, so I’m going with what is before me. The writer is wrong in the contention that Republicans should be rankled, because ethanol production is subsidized.  No member of the House or Senate, as I see it, can afford to oppose any one subsidy, because there are so many.  She goes on to say that ethanol is worse for the environment than gasoline, so that should irk Democrats.  I have a two-part challenge to that contention.  The first is the environmental issue.  Ethanol is NOT worse for the environment; the second is a companion assumption- - -that Democrats, genetically, are environmentalists.  By that I do not mean the thoughtful, science-based conclusions that challenge some of our long-held beliefs, but rather the extremists. (I dare not describe extremists, lest I endanger my family, and maybe even colleagues.)

There has also been a number of responses to the general contention that ethanol production has increased food prices.  Ethanol comes from corn, the complaint goes, and farmers are planting corn to be harvested for ethanol, and not for food.  That’s another invalid complaint, and balanced more than just a few times by more actualities.

Here’s a more logical string of facts and interpretations.  Ethanol production and the demand for corn to produce it have increased. The market price for corn has increased (that’s the major reason more farmers are planting more corn).  The market price for corn indeed has increased over the past few years, but ethanol is only one factor.  Among the others are a sharp increase in petroleum prices, expanding global demand for agricultural commodities (such as beef--cornfed beef - - people don’t eat much corn, whatever the price), commodity market speculators, and the U.S. Monetary policy.

Here’s another kicker on that score.  A recent Consumer Price Index report indicated retail food prices have increased at a slower rate since the Renewable Fuel Standard took effect, than during the comparable five years before the RFS.

In addition to all this, Agriculture has known for a long time that food processing accounts for a larger share of consumer food costs than does production agriculture.

Several years ago, the National Association of Farm Broadcasting gave a special award to one of my colleagues, recognizing his stellar performance in researching and reporting on the myth that U.S. Wheat producers were responsible for a runup in the price of bread at the store.

Fact was, according to that report, less than two cents worth of wheat went into a loaf of bread.  The rest of the consumer cost lay in processing, packaging, and transporting that loaf of bread to the dinner table.

There’s a lot of sounding off about agriculture from people who don’t know agriculture.