China, not biofuels, are to blame for rising food costs. At least, that’s what The Biofuels Digest suggests. The online publication says their study finds that for every bushel of grain used to make U.S. ethanol, six are used to support Chinese meat demand.
A change in Chinese meat consumption habits since 1995 is diverting eight billion bushels of grain per year to livestock feed and could empty global grain stocks by September 2010, according to a new study from Biofuels Digest.
The study, “Meat vs Fuel: Grain use in the U.S. and China, 1995-2008,” concluded that a complete shutdown of the U.S. ethanol industry would extend the deadline only until 2013.
“It’s not food, it’s not fuel, it’s China,” said Jim Lane, editor of Biofuels Digest and author of the report.
The study determined that China’s meat consumption since 1995 has increased by 112 percent to 53 kilograms per person per year.
“If the Chinese people had consumed the same amount of meat, per person, in 2007 as in 1995, there would have been enough grain left over to support 927 million people with food for an entire year,” said Lane.
The study found that the U.S. increased corn production by 157 million tonnes of corn since 1995. 31 million net tonnes of grain went to support U.S. ethanol production, and 27 million tonnes supported a 15 percent increase in U.S. population during the period. By contrast, the study projected that livestock grain demand to supply Chinese meat consumption increased by 199 million tonnes between 1995 and 2007.
“Given that the U.S. population grew 15 percent, the 82 percent increase in U.S. corn production left plenty for people, plenty for livestock, and plenty for ethanol,” said Lane. “The bad news is that we have a global fuel and food crisis of the first magnitude. The only good news is that it’s easier to find a steak in Beijing.”
The study tracks the meteoric growth in Chinese meat consumption since 1983, a trend spotted early by commentator Lester Brown in his prescient article “Who Will Feed China?” In 1995, meat consumption was 25 kilograms per person, reaching 31 kilograms by 1999, 50 kilograms by 2000, and is 53 kilograms per person today.
“Chinese meat consumption is still 45 percent less than the average consumption in the U.S.,” Lane warned. “An additional 277 million tonnes of grain would be needed to support China at parity with the U.S. That would take 68 million acres to grow. There isn’t that kind of arable land available anywhere is the world, whether we use grains for renewable energy or not.”