Human Ecology

, 37:1 | Cite as

Food Versus Biofuels: Environmental and Economic Costs

  • David PimentelEmail author
  • Alison Marklein
  • Megan A. Toth
  • Marissa N. Karpoff
  • Gillian S. Paul
  • Robert McCormack
  • Joanna Kyriazis
  • Tim Krueger


The rapidly growing world population and rising consumption of biofuels intensify demands for both food and biofuels. This exaggerates food and fuel shortages. The use of food crops such as corn grain to produce ethanol raises major nutritional and ethical concerns. Nearly 60% of humans in the world are currently malnourished, so the need for grains and other basic foods is critical. Growing crops for fuel squanders land, water and energy resources vital for the production of food for human consumption. Using corn for ethanol increases the price of US beef, chicken, pork, eggs, breads, cereals, and milk more than 10% to 30%. In addition, Jacques Diouf, Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, reports that using food grains to produce biofuels is already causing food shortages for the poor of the world. Growing crops for biofuel not only ignores the need to reduce fossil energy and land use, but exacerbates the problem of malnourishment worldwide.


Agriculture Biofuels Energy Food security Fossil fuels Natural resources Renewable energy 



The authors also wish to thank Holli Edgley and Elizabeth Keokosky at Cornell University for their contributions to the development of this paper. We are also grateful to the following people for their comments and suggestions on earlier versions of the paper: Harry de Gorter, Department of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Marcelo Dias De Oliveira, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University, Houston, TX; Andrew Ferguson, Optimum Population Trust, Manchester, UK; Mario Giampietro, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain; David Hammer, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Roel Hammerschlag, Climate and Energy Program, Stockholm Environment Institute (USA), Somerville, MA; Conly Hansen, Director Center for Profitable Uses of Agricultural, Utah State University, Logan, UT; Phillip McMichael, Development Sociology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Rattan Lal, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH; Michele Whitecraft, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Walter Youngquist, Petroleum Consultant, Eugene, OR. This research was supported in part by the Podell Emeriti Award at Cornell University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Pimentel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alison Marklein
    • 1
  • Megan A. Toth
    • 1
  • Marissa N. Karpoff
    • 1
  • Gillian S. Paul
    • 1
  • Robert McCormack
    • 1
  • Joanna Kyriazis
    • 1
  • Tim Krueger
    • 1
  1. 1.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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