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Consume Less, Experts Advise as Malthusian Nightmare Returns to Haunt West

s retail system. But the supermarkets cannot shield the people for long.

The European Commission no longer has reserves to help cushion its citizens. Its mountains of unsold butter and meat and its lake of powdered milk have disappeared after reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy.

Then there is corn. While relatively little corn is eaten directly it is of pivotal importance to the food economy as so much of it is consumed indirectly. The milk, eggs, cheese, butter, chicken, beef, ice cream and yoghurt in the average fridge is all produced using corn and the price of every one of these is influenced by the price of corn.

In the past 12 months the global corn price has doubled. The constant aim of agriculture is to produce enough food to carry us over to the next harvest. In six of the past seven years, we have used more grain worldwide than we have produced. As a result world grain reserves - or carryover stocks - have dwindled to 57 days. This is the lowest level of grain reserves in 34 years.

The reason for the price surge is the wholesale diversion of grain crops into the production of ethanol. Thirty per cent of next year's grain harvest in the US will go straight to an ethanol distillery. As the US supplies more than two-thirds of the world's grain imports this unprecedented move will affect food prices everywhere. In Europe farmers are switching en masse to fuel crops to meet the EU requirement that bio-fuels account for 20 per cent of the energy mix.

Ethanol is almost universally popular with politicians as it allows them to tell voters to keep on motoring, while bio-fuels will fix the problem of harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

But bio-fuels are not a green panacea, as the influential economist Lester Brown from the Earth Policy Institute explained in a briefing to the US Senate last week. He said: "The stage is now set for direct competition for grain between the 800 million peop
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