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The Agricultural Ethics of Biofuels: The Food vs. Fuel Debate

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  • Paul B. Thompson

    () (Department of Philosophy, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1032, USA
    Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1032, USA
    Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1032, USA)

Abstract

Plant-based transportation fuels were the focus of extended criticism in the press, especially during 2008 when a portion of the blame for a spike in global food prices was associated with growth of the United States’ corn ethanol industry. The critique is based on an unsophisticated portrayal of the ethical issues at stake in the food security implications of biofuel. Three ethical critiques can be leveled at the food vs. fuel debate. First, although market drivers of biofuels indeed skew consumption of agricultural grains, this is not a problem that is unique to biofuels. Second, the critique does not reflect an adequate understanding of the way that rising food prices and changes in agricultural technology affect the food security of the poorest people. Third, although rising food prices could be beneficial to poor farm producers among the world’s poor, it is unlikely that benefits will materialize in the absence of concerted programs to deliberately select biofuel development strategies that are targeted to strengthen food security for poor and small-holding producers. An adequate agricultural ethics for biofuels will require commitment by both private and public sector biofuel developers to ensure that potentially positive attributes of biofuel development are realized.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul B. Thompson, 2012. "The Agricultural Ethics of Biofuels: The Food vs. Fuel Debate," Agriculture, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 2(4), pages 1-20, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jagris:v:2:y:2012:i:4:p:339-358:d:21216
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Sen, Amartya, 1983. "Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198284635.
    2. Searchinger, Timothy & Heimlich, Ralph & Houghton, R. A. & Dong, Fengxia & Elobeid, Amani & Fabiosa, Jacinto F. & Tokgoz, Simla & Hayes, Dermot J. & Yu, Hun-Hsiang, 2008. "Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change," Staff General Research Papers Archive 12881, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    3. Dreze, Jean & Sen, Amartya, 1991. "Hunger and Public Action," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198283652.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Gabriel Gomes & Emmanuel Hache & Valérie Mignon & Anthony Paris, 2017. "On the current account - biofuels link in emerging and developing countries: do oil price fluctuations matter?," EconomiX Working Papers 2017-30, University of Paris Nanterre, EconomiX.
    2. repec:gam:jsusta:v:9:y:2017:i:9:p:1560-:d:110529 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Tse, H. & Leung, C.W. & Cheung, C.S., 2015. "Investigation on the combustion characteristics and particulate emissions from a diesel engine fueled with diesel-biodiesel-ethanol blends," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 343-350.
    4. repec:eee:enepol:v:108:y:2017:i:c:p:791-805 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Ahmed, Abubakari & Campion, Benjamin Betey & Gasparatos, Alexandros, 2017. "Biofuel development in Ghana: policies of expansion and drivers of failure in the jatropha sector," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 133-149.
    6. Kathleen Araújo & Devinder Mahajan & Ryan Kerr & Marcelo da Silva, 2017. "Global Biofuels at the Crossroads: An Overview of Technical, Policy, and Investment Complexities in the Sustainability of Biofuel Development," Agriculture, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(4), pages 1-22, March.
    7. Shortall, O.K. & Raman, Sujatha & Millar, Kate, 2015. "Are plants the new oil? Responsible innovation, biorefining and multipurpose agriculture," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 360-368.
    8. Pradhan, Anup & Mbohwa, Charles, 2014. "Development of biofuels in South Africa: Challenges and opportunities," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 1089-1100.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    hunger; food security; food prices; moral responsibility; transportation fuels;

    JEL classification:

    • Q1 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture
    • Q10 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - General
    • Q11 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Aggregate Supply and Demand Analysis; Prices
    • Q12 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Micro Analysis of Farm Firms, Farm Households, and Farm Input Markets
    • Q13 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Markets and Marketing; Cooperatives; Agribusiness
    • Q14 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Finance
    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
    • Q16 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - R&D; Agricultural Technology; Biofuels; Agricultural Extension Services
    • Q17 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agriculture in International Trade
    • Q18 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Policy; Food Policy

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