World Hunger Day

May 28, 2014

More than one in five people live on $1.25 per day or less, according to Gallup, and about 50 million Americans live below the poverty line.

World Hunger Day, a day celebrating sustainable solutions to ending extreme hunger and poverty, seems like an appropriate time to discuss what the EPA and Congress can do to positively impact those living in extreme poverty. In a discussion hosted by FoodPolicy.Us, panelists discussed the effects the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is having on hunger domestically and abroad.

While they may seem like only modestly related, the effects the ethanol mandate has on our food supply are reverberating around the world. Here are just four ways our food-for-fuel policy is fueling hunger:

  1. Food price shocks — Sasanka Thilakasiri of Oxfam International describes how the price shocks driven by the increasing demand for corn pushes those hovering just above the poverty line back down. When the cost of food accounts for 60-80 percent of your income, as it does in many poverty-stricken countries, even slight changes have huge effects on your ability to feed your family. Beyond that, increasing the cost of importing corn means all countries are able to provide less for their citizens.


  2. Higher all-around prices — Just how much is the cost of food increasing? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), thanks to ethanol mandates, the cost of corn, wheat, rice and soybeans could increase by 20 percent worldwide. Basic economics teaches us that as the price for corn goes up, farmers will plant more of it and less of other crops, driving up the price of everything.
  3. Inflation — Closer to the home, we can track the increasing Consumer Price Index — a measure of inflation in the United States. Since the beginning of this policy, we’re up 38 percent overall and 17.8 percent for food. While this increase can’t be entirely attributed to the ethanol mandate, the increase in competition for corn has a domino effect into unexpected areas: higher feed prices mean higher beef and poultry prices, higher dairy prices and less land for other crops.

  4. Food assistance programs — The rising costs of food have added significant costs to the federal food stamp program (SNAP) and even put school lunches for hungry kids at risk – meaning the U.S. is spending more money to merely tread water in our fight against hunger.

    And to quote Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute as well as the author of Full Planet, Empty Plates:

    “International food assistance programs are also hit hard by rising grain prices. Since the budgets of food aid agencies are set well in advance, a rise in prices shrinks food assistance precisely when more help is needed.”

Mandating ever-increasing amount of food for fuel is a practice that Jean Ziegler, UN Rapporteur for the Right to Food, calls, “a crime against humanity.” On World Hunger Day, tell the EPA and Congress it’s time to take action to help solve hunger around the world.