[FoRK] That which was foretold...
Adam L Beberg
<beberg at mithral.com> on
Mon Jun 18 21:27:43 PDT 2007
... comes to pass. But I'm sure the 60m+ men who will never find wives
since they killed all the girls will handle this added burden just fine.
China wants food first, not fuel
By Antoaneta Bezlova
Jun 16, 2007
BEIJING - A customary Chinese greeting from the years of rations and
shortages - "Have you eaten yet?" - is being jokingly resurrected as the
public watches the prices of key staples, particularly pork, soaring by
Chinese economic minders, however, are not amused. Worried about social
instability fueled by inflation, they have been mulling over whether to
steady prices by using the state strategic reserve
of hundreds of thousands of live pigs kept at special farms for
Disturbingly, this is the second time in seven months that the Chinese
leadership has had to resort to the country's strategic reserves to
stave off politically dangerous increases in food prices. In December,
Beijing ordered the auctioning of some of the state wheat reserves to
halt the rise in crops prices and prevent panic among the public.
"Almost every inflationary crisis in the past 20 years has begun with an
increase in food prices," noted Xia Yeliang, professor of economics at
Peking University. "Historically Chinese people have always regarded
food as their first necessity. For people of middle age and the elderly,
the memories of most recent times when food was lacking still endure."
The last big famine China experienced - arguably the greatest in human
history - during the disastrous Great Leap Forward experiment with
communist industrialization in the late 1950s, killed up to 30 million
people. Since then, ensuring food sufficiency for the country's
population of 1.3 billion has been regarded by Chinese leaders as a
matter of national security.
Current hikes in both grain and pork prices are blamed on the same
culprit - the ethanol industry, whose explosive growth has been gobbling
up a growing share of China's corn (maize) harvest traditionally
preserved for food and animal feed.
Having promoted the production of the environmentally friendly gasoline
additive for years, Chinese economic planners now fear the sector has
grown too much and too quickly, presenting them with an uncomfortable
dilemma of choosing between the country's green agenda and its national
Leadership fears were clearly manifested late last month when Premier
Wen Jiabao visited a meat market in Xian, central China, to check the
prices of pork. He called on local officials to pay pig breeders to
increase production and tried to reassure the public that the situation
was under control. As of mid-May, prices of pork were up by 43% compared
with the same period last year, said the Agriculture Ministry.
Soaring pork prices have been partly blamed on outbreaks of contagious
pig disease, which swept 22 Chinese provinces, killing 18,000 pigs in
the first five months of the year and disrupting the pig industry. About
a million pigs died from the disease last year.
Yet the root of the problem, according to officials, is not the disease.
"The main reason is the big price increases of animal feed that began
last June," Jia Youling, director of the Veterinary Bureau affiliated
with the ministry, said at a press briefing this week.
Pig feed, which is made mostly of corn, simply followed increases in
corn prices. Prices of the commodity have risen by up to 30% since the
latter half of last year, according to the ministry.
What is more, producers have ignored a government limit on converting
about 3 million tonnes of corn into ethanol a year and used up to 16
million tonnes of the crop in 2006, the ministry said in April.
China has been encouraging the production of biofuel such as ethanol and
bio-diesel from renewable resources to satisfy the country's voracious
appetite for energy and reduce its growing dependence on imported petroleum.
Biofuel is also touted as green panacea for environmental problems
caused by oil. Chinese planners have made the development of green
energies a key priority in the country's five-year economic plan. By
2020 they want renewable energy to account for 15% of the country's
While a relative latecomer to the biofuel market, in the past two years
China has grown to be the world's third-largest producer after Brazil
and the United States.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China's top
planning body, reported in December that the country's ethanol capacity
had reached 10 million tonnes, or 10 times the amount approved for the
four government facilities in Jilin, Heilongjiang, Anhui and Henan
The excess amount has been coming from a cluster of small, unlicensed
producers, who sell their production to officially approved mills or oil
refineries. Industry insiders say that just Jilin, one of the nine
designated provinces where ethanol is sold, has more than 400 ethanol
mills, all of them producing the fuel from corn.
Fearing that the explosive growth of the ethanol industry was making a
serious dent in the country's grain reserves, the central government
stopped approving new corn-based ethanol plants in December. This month
it took another step, announcing that it would stop the production of
ethanol from corn altogether.
Xiong Bilin, a senior official with the NDRC, said the State Council,
China's cabinet, has decided ethanol should be developed without
occupying arable land, large-scale consumption of grain, or damage to
Despite three straight years of bumper harvests, Chinese planners are
still worried that fast-shrinking farmland could affect grain supply in
the near future. Arable land is said to have shrunk by 8 million
hectares between 1999 and 2005.
"The country will not approve new projects of food-based ethanol," Xiong
told a development forum in Beijing last week. "The current four [state]
plants engaged in making ethanol from corn are urged to switch to new
This, however, might not see the end of corn-based ethanol production in
the country. Chinese press reports say domestic corn processors are
rapidly expanding their capacities to resume ethanol production when the
government relaxes its stance.
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