Alex Bluestone
Brazil: A land entailing natural wonders, a powerhouse economy, and sugar cane ethanol? Yes, that’s right. Ranked second in terms of production and first for exporting, Brazil has long been a pivotal mover and shaker in the global ethanol industry.

Together with the United States, Brazil produces nearly 88 percent of the world’s ethanol supply. However, Brazil uses sugar cane as a preferred alternative to corn in its ethanol production.

With an annual yield of nearly 370 million bushels of corn, many Missourians are deeply connected to the corn-based ethanol industry. If the industry were to dry up, thousands stand to suffer in the short run. Even so, could there be a sweeter alternative?

Well, quite literally, yes. The Brazilian sugar cane industry is said to be seven times more efficient than that of the United States, and less expensive, too — nearly 30 percent cheaper, in fact. Regardless, it appears that the federal government has little interest in the more viable Brazilian blend.

In order to offset a federal tax credit targeted to ethanol blending companies, the United States has levied a tariff on Brazil’s ethanol, perhaps as a way to keep the international market out while spurring on its own domestic product.

Current and past administrations have vowed to reduce foreign oil imports, claiming that we have become too dependent on them. So, why a virtual ban on Brazilian imports? If ethanol is federally promoted as a solution to the so-called national security issue of dependence on Middle Eastern oil, why wouldn’t cheap, clean-burning ethanol from friendly Brazil be satisfactory? If officials are serious in addressing this as a national security issue, they would invest in other forms of energy — namely, those which are not harmful to our country’s environment and well-being.

Thankfully, it appears that lawmakers might be making a move in a better direction. Last week, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) fathered an amendment that would slash government subsidies of the corn industry while also lifting the tariff. Unfortunately, Coburn’s amendments may never become actual laws. Nonetheless, the Senate has shown an ever-increasing readiness to bring ethanol subsidies to the curb.

So, is investing in the precarious, ever-expanding corn-based ethanol industry worth the higher food prices, loss of necessary agricultural groundwater, and increased pollution that result? Well, some would argue that the aforementioned are a small price to pay to support an industry. I contend the contrary. Surrounding Missouri's ethanol industry, we have corn farmers benefiting from subsidies, cattle farmers suffering from feed shortages, and mandates that often require we burn at least 10 percent less-fuel-efficient ethanol in our cars.

When subsidies are involved, benefits for some lead to costs for others. So, who’s right? You be the judge.

About the Author

Alex Bluestone