Russia had disappeared from the face of the earth, in terms of production.” The point is that the amount of grain being converted into fuel for cars is far from inconsequential. “That 129 million tons is certainly enough to raise food prices worldwide.”
The effects of this are not really felt in the United States, Brown said. “The price of grain doubles, and the value of wheat in a loaf of bread, which was 10 cents before the price of grain doubled, is now 20 cents.” If that leads to a 10-cent increase in the cost of a $3 loaf of bread, few Americans will notice. However, he said, a person who lives in New Delhi and buys wheat from the market to make chapatis is much more sensitive to price increases. “Basically, you are bringing home the wheat and grinding it, and making the chapatis. If the world price of wheat doubles, the price of your chapatis doubles. Low-income people around the world are much more affected by this massive chunk of grain that we are now using to produce fuel.”
Thus, the use of grains to make biofuels is beginning to have consequences that have not been seen before, Brown said, at least not on this scale. “In the past, when food supplies tightened, the low-income segments of world society reduced the number of meals per day to one. They would have just one meal per day. Now, we see a new sort of phenomenon, which is foodless days.” Brown mentioned a survey conducted in the past couple of years that showed how prevalent this phenomenon is. In Nigeria, he said, 27 percent of all families now routinely plan foodless days. In India, 24 percent of families can no longer afford to eat every day. In Peru, it is 14 percent.
“The point is,” Brown said, “that we are moving into a new situation now, in terms of the adequacy of the food supply.” At current prices, there is simply not enough grain to go around, so the prices go up.
The diversion of 129 million tons of grain to the production of biofuels in the United States is obviously a major factor, but there are at least two other factors involved. One is world population growth. Each year there are 80 million more mouths to feed than a year earlier. “There will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there last night. This is relentless, it just keeps going on and on,” Brown said.
The second factor is the increasing amount of grain used for animal feed. Most of the difference between India’s consumption of almost 400 pounds of grain per person per year and grain consumption in the United States, which is roughly 1,400 pounds per year, is due to the production of meat, milk, and eggs. Thus, rising affluence is now a major source of growth in the demand for grain, Brown said. The effect has been most