The facts show we don’t have to choose between ‘food versus fuel’

Source: By Jim Talent, The Hill • Posted: Friday, November 18, 2016

According to the Wall Street Journal, the “U.S. is on track this year to post the longest stretch of falling food prices in more than 50 years.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that this is the sharpest drop in the cost of food at home since December 2009. At the same time, the Energy Information Administration projectsthat consumers will pay an average of less than $2.00 per gallon for fuel this January.

It’s great news, at least for hardworking families for whom the decline in prices for eggs, milk, ground beef, pork chops, corn, and other staples means one less source of financial pressure. Fossil fuel advocates are probably less thrilled.

Both of these outcomes, food deflation and savings at the pump, are exactly what oil companies insisted would never happen if we allowed American farmers to invest in biofuel production under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

They were wrong then and they are wrong now, even as they call on their allies in Congress to gut the RFS — the one bipartisan program delivering cleaner, cheaper, more abundant energy options to consumers.

In the past, RFS critics have used companies like Wendy’s as pawns to drive a debate about food versus fuel. Yet, just this August, Wendy’s told investors that competition from cheap groceries was actually eating into restaurant profits. At the same time, food producers like Tyson reported record profits as animal feed costs fell $190 million this year alone.

In truth, there has never been any significant correlation between food prices and biofuel production.

According to the World Bank, the price of oil has always been the biggest factor in determining the cost of food.

Biofuel production, on the other hand, has driven rapid advancements in agricultural efficiency, facilitating investments in greater yields and rural economic growth. It also provides farmers with an additional market for their products, a source of stability in an industry that already must deal with the perennial uncertainty of nature’s bounty.

In fact, since Congress expanded the RFS in 2007, ethanol production has risen year-after-year while the average cost for a bushel of corn fell from $4.20 to $3.60. We’re producing more food than ever before, with each bushel of grain requiring less land, less water, and less fertilizer each year.

We’re also using America’s grain more efficiently than ever. During ethanol production, most of the protein and fat in every kernel of corn — a third of every bushel — is returned to the marketplace as animal feed. We now produce so much animal feed that China recently imposed unwarranted trade restrictions on U.S. exporters in order to protect their own domestic producers.

After 11 years of progress under the RFS, those who seek to pit fuel against food no longer have any credability.

Their arguments in favor of ever-increasing reliance on fossil fuels have fallen flat, even as the ethanol industry has grown to support hundreds of thousands of American jobs. Consumers are saving money at the pump, domestic energy production has risen, and outlandish claims about food prices have not only failed to hold true, but we’ve seen exactly the opposite.

It’s time for lawmakers to stop letting fossil fuel producers use false rhetoric about food as a weapon against renewable energy. The truth is far more compelling, and it’s clear as day on your grocery store shelf. Happy Thanksgiving.

Jim Talent currently serves as Chairman of Americans for Energy Security and Innovation (AESI), which supports homegrown, renewable energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.