Ethanol. It's meant to fuel our cars, but is it also fueling a global food crisis?
With gas prices at record highs, alternative fuels may be the key to decreasing our dependence on foreign oil and lowering the price at the pump. However, in the case of ethanol, the benefits come with some very serious concerns.
Our team of Vanguard journalists traveled from the sugarcane plantations of Brazil to the cornfields of Iowa to investigate the promises and perils of using crops for fuel. And we called upon contributors from around the world who shared their personal stories on how the rising price of food is affecting people in the places where it matters most, including Haiti, Senegal and Pakistan.
In both Brazil and Iowa, the economic impact of ethanol has been profound. Growing demand for the fuel means big business for farmers on both hemispheres. But with the success of ethanol comes a heated debate over the impact of its production on the price of food.
The first tremors of the food crisis came early last year when thousands of protesters took to the streets of Mexico City to protest rising tortilla prices. My colleague Adam Yamaguchi and I went there to cover what was being called the "tortilla crisis."
Growing up in California, I always loved Mexican food and tortillas, but I didn't realize how essential they were to the Mexican diet until my parents moved our family to central Mexico some years ago. Living in Mexico, you learn that tortillas are more than just tasty; they're a staple for millions of people. As one woman told Adam and I when we returned to Mexico for Current, "the tortilla is what you can afford when you can't afford anything else."
It's exactly this sentiment that alarmed millions of Mexicans when the price of the tortilla skyrocketed. Many blamed ethanol for the rising price of corn, the key ingredient in tortillas. But it's not just Mexico that is experiencing higher food costs.
Around the world, the global price of food is on the rise. And a recent World Bank report blames biofuels for a 75% spike in global food prices. (Previous US estimates linked biofuels to only a 3% food-price increase). Ethanol may provide an energy alternative, but critics contend that the use of food for fuel could rob millions of sustenance.
Tonight on Current TV, Vanguard and Collective Journalism present "Food Fight," a special look at the search for alternative fuel and the global fight for food. Here's a sneak peek:
Lauren Cerre is a producer for the award-winning Vanguard unit of Current TV journalists. Vanguard's special presentation "Food Fight" airs Wednesday, July 16 at 7pm PST/10PM EST. The pod will also be available on Current.com.