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baltimoresun.com

Unfair fuel standard leaves a bad taste

Your holiday cookout is costing more, thanks to the high price of diverting corn to ethanol production

By Mike Brown

8:00 AM EDT, May 26, 2013

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Whether you're barbecuing in Baltimore, in Bel Air or on the bay this Memorial Day, you will pay more for staple foods because our federal government continues to pit food versus fuel.

Thanks to an unworkable federal energy policy, prices for animal feed have soared, burdening those farmers and ranchers that raise livestock and poultry, along with the companies that process them, with rising production costs. In addition to forcing farms and food producers to cut jobs or close their doors, the increased costs are reflected in the expanding grocery bills of every American.

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is turning more and more of our nation's corn crop into fuel, with disastrous effects.

By mandating that all U.S. transportation fuel contain ethanol, the RFS guarantees massive demand for corn — a primary ethanol feedstock — pushing up prices of the grain by an astronomical 275 percent since the policy went into effect in 2006. This delivers a major blow to the Delmarva Peninsula's poultry producers who rely on corn for feed, which is the single largest cost in raising chickens (and turkeys, cows and hogs). Poultry producers alone are forced to spend an extra $1.4 million per day on corn for feed as a result of the RFS.

Since the RFS was implemented, we have witnessed a dozen poultry companies file for bankruptcy, be sold or simply close their doors, citing record feed costs. How many more jobs and family farms have to be lost before we change this misguided policy? We're not asking for handouts. We're asking for a level playing field on the free market.

Now, with 40 percent of U.S.-grown corn allocated to ethanol production, our nation has reached the point that more corn goes into gas tanks than toward animal feed and food. According to a FarmEcon LLC study, last year the average U.S. family of four saw a $2,000 increase in food costs due to higher corn prices brought on largely by the RFS. Food prices have increased another 4 percent since then. To some, these expanding grocery bills may not seem a lot. But they do to the 46 million people who live below the poverty line.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been dragging its feet on this issue, last year denying requests for a waiver from the RFS in the wake of the worst drought in 60 years. Those requests came from nine governors, including Gov. Martin O'Malley; 190 members of Congress, including Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin and Rep. Andy Harris; farmers; food producers; anti-hunger organizations; consumer-interest groups; and environmental advocates.

Delmarva's chicken farmers and processors are certainly not anti-corn; we're not even anti-ethanol. What we are against is a government mandate that artificially inflates the price of corn and picks winners and losers among those who depend on it.

It is clear that this law is broken. It is time for Congress to step up and take action to readdress this policy, zero out corn from the mandate and provide some much-needed relief to farmers, animal agriculture and food producers, while helping Americans keep food affordable.

Mike Brown is president of the National Chicken Council.