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

Listed author(s):
  • 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)

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.

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Article provided by MDPI, Open Access Journal in its journal Agriculture.

Volume (Year): 2 (2012)
Issue (Month): 4 (November)
Pages: 1-20

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Handle: RePEc:gam:jagris:v:2:y:2012:i:4:p:339-358:d:21216
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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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