Obama's Hungry Children

As a result of the Midwestern drought, global prices for corn and other staple foods have increased dramatically.  Corn prices are up by half since May, while soybean prices are up by over a quarter.  With the drought only worsening, traders are beginning to talk about something entirely unprecedented: double-digit prices for a bushel of corn.  Meanwhile, under the president's environmental mandates, 50% of this year's crop is being burned up to produce ethanol.

When global grain prices rise, it is always the poor who suffer the most.  Of course, Americans, who spend an average of 18% of their income on food for home consumption, will be hurt as well.  But for the poor in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Ethiopia, increased grain prices are a matter of life and death.   

In fact, almost one billion people worldwide will go to bed hungry tonight, half of them children.  On average, 5 million children die of starvation each year before reaching the age of five.  This year, that number will be much higher.  For poor children at the margin, a large increase in grain prices is nothing less than a death sentence.

Death by starvation is not a pretty sight. It is the sight of a three-year-old child, sitting on the bare earth, listless, her belly swollen, too exhausted even to swat the flies from her face. There is an empty bowl lying there on the ground next to her, but she pays no attention to it. Even at three years of age, she knows what her future holds in store. She stares out into the distance, completely impassive, hopeless, and resigned. That is what the President's ethanol mandate means for children in the world's poorest countries.

One word from Obama could end this madness.  He could direct the EPA to put an end, once and for all, to the insane requirement that Americans destroy half their corn crop to produce ethanol -- a product that lowers fuel mileage and damages many internal combustion engines, and whose production contributes to increased CO2 emissions.  One word from Obama would effectively double this year's corn crop and save millions of third-world children from agonizing deaths.

Even the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has requested a suspension of America's ethanol program, but Obama refuses to act.  Presumably, he refuses to act because ethanol producers contribute a great deal to his campaign.  Opensecrets.org lists 21 industry groups associated with biofuels supporting Obama.  Yet the Obama campaign, which has attacked Mitt Romney for his connection of 13 years ago with Bain Capital, has never been forthcoming as to how much it is now receiving from biofuel lobbyists.  Suffice it to say he has given them everything they asked for, including support for raising current ethanol additive limits from 10% to 15%.

Even under current law, EPA mandates will require the blending of 36 billion gallons of ethanol in gasoline by 2022.  That amount of corn ethanol would not just consume all of this year's crop; it would consume 130% of it.  Under current law, there will not be a single ear of corn available in 2022 for human or animal consumption even with relatively good harvests. 

Still, the president does nothing.  He has never spoken out against the 36-billion-gallon mandate.  He has spoken in favor only of increasing it.  If the president has his way, it will be a lot more than one billion human beings going to bed hungry, and a lot more than five million children starving to death every year.  But Obama does not seem concerned.  Just in the last few weeks, his agriculture secretary, presumably at Obama's direction, came out in opposition to suspending the ethanol program.  Iowa is a swing state in this year's presidential election, and it is obvious that Iowa's 6 electoral votes are more important to Obama than the lives of five or ten million children in places like India or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The fact that Americans will have to pay more for food doesn't seem to concern him, either.  For the most part, those increases won't be passed along until after the election.  Ranchers are now liquidating their herds, leading to lower meat prices, but once those herds have been sold off, prices will rise.  The same holds for grain reserves that are now being drawn down, thus stabilizing the market to some degree.  Once those reserves have been drained, prices are likely to rise further.

Yet the White House, which seems to have a plan for everything else (taking over health care, regulating oil and gas drilling, forcing Americans to consume healthy snacks), has no plan whatsoever for controlling food prices or even for securing the nation's food supply.  Obama has spoken at countless fundraisers and campaign stops this year, but the word "ethanol" has never passed his lips.  He knows that ethanol mandates are hated, but he is not about to turn down campaign contributions.

Even as that child in Africa sits in the dirt, so weak that she is unable to rise, Obama flies off to one fundraiser after another, raking in millions from crony capitalists.  As he skips down the steps of Air Force One, ebullient and full of energy, and undoubtedly well-fed, does the president ever think about how many children he has condemned to die that very day?  Does it ever occur to him that he could save tens of millions of little boys and girls, simply with one word to the EPA?

I doubt it.  That is how callous this president has become in the pursuit of power.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and article on American culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).