With record drought destroying crops across the country, corn prices are skyrocketing, and that is causing a world-wide ripple effect, including on the cost of the corn-derived gasoline additive ethanol.
Corn prices are up 60 percent this summer, Christopher Hurt, a Purdue University economic professor, estimates. And now Democratic governors from Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina and Arkansas have joined ranchers, poultry farmers and the United Nations director-general for food and agriculture in asking the Environmental Protection Agency to waive the federal requirement that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol.
"It's universally acknowledged that ethanol is raising the price of food," Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute said. "It's not lowering the price of gas. In fact, it may be raising the price of gas, and it's having a devastating environmental effect in terms of coastal pollution."
Green says coastal "dead zones" may be increasing because of the run-off from fertilizer-intensive corn crops. But the human economic costs are potentially more severe.
The Department of Agriculture estimates that food inflation will hit 3 percent to 3.5 percent this year, then 3 percent to 4 percent next year. The U.S. is the world's largest food exporter. For the poorest countries dependent on U.S. exports of corn, the impact may cost lives.
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