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The real problem with corn-based ethanol

Andrew Leonard, Salon
As the craze for corn-based ethanol surges in the United States, commercially providing ever-improved versions of these enzymes [which break down corn starch] has become a thriving business. But to ethanol producers, obtaining the enzymes represents a production cost that they’d rather do without.

One solution is to have corn arrive at the ethanol plant with the enzyme already preloaded…. transgenic corn purposefully optimized for the production of ethanol…

…But here’s the first problem: Corn is fabulously promiscuous. If you plant a field of transgenic corn destined solely for ethanol production, that corn will interbreed with other fields of corn. Barring further advances in gene containment technology that have yet to be perfected, energy crop corn will get into the food supply. This is not alarmist anti-GMO propaganda. It is fact. Everyone involved with the production and regulation of transgenic corn is well aware of this.

Which is why any new transgenic corn, no matter what its ultimate purpose, must pass the same safety and health safeguards that any new crop designed specifically for human consumption must go through.

But here’s the second problem: According to the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (CIRB) at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, a key part of the regulatory safety process is in danger of being undermined.
(13 Feb 2007)
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For Ethanol, the Future Is Now
(text and audio)
Robert Siegel, Christopher Joyce and others, National Public Radio
“Ethanol Boom Raises Corn Prices”
“Ethanol, Once Bypassed, Now Surging Ahead”
“Environmentalists Weigh In on Ethanol”
“FAQ: Why Ethanol Stations Are Hard to Find”
(16 Feb 2007)
Several stories from NPR on different aspects of ethanol. Unlike some previous alternative energy stories from NPR which were uncritical and credulous, this series is written with a refreshingly critical eye. These stories are just much better journalism. -BA

British Millers Worried by Impact of Biofuel Subsidy

Michael Szabo, Reuters
LONDON – British millers are worried that government subsidies to promote biofuel intensifies competition between using grain for food or fuel and damages their industry.
(16 Feb 2007)

Biofuel demand unsustainable?

Staff, World Poultry
Loek Boonekamp, head of the OECD´s commercial and marketing division told attendees at Agra FNP’s Outlook Brazil conference in Sao Paulo that plans to boost biofuel production, often cannot be justified in economic terms and may be unsustainable. ..

Boonekamp feels that biofuel production will be damaging to the animal feed and meat industries. Even if the oil price fell to the point that it was no longer economic to make biofuels from grains or oilseeds, which stands at about US$90 per barrel in the EU (US$60 in the US), the decision to go ahead has been taken. The consequences will have to be lived with, even though it will prove to be unsustainable, he added. ..
(14 Feb 2007)

Confectioners questions EU biofuel policy

Giles Clark, Biofuel Review
With what it sees as growing competition for the same raw feedstock CAOBISCO, the Association of Chocolate, Biscuits and Confectionery industries of the European Union, has called for the EU Commission to think again about its Renewable Energy Roadmap.

In a statement released last week CAOBISCO outlined what it sees as the fundamental problems underlying the EU energy plan. Our key raw materials are increasingly being used for the production of biodiesel and bio-ethanol. We have already experienced steep increases in raw material prices with clear links to the EU Biofuels policy. Rapeseed oil price doubled over the last 5 years and the price of cereals, starches, and glucose recently increased by circa 20%.

The Commission’s Roadmap sets a 10% share of transport fuels by 2020 as mandatory target for biofuels which will, says CAOBISCO, damage the food industry by provoking a serious shortage of raw materials and a non-sustainable price increase. ..
(7 Feb 2007)