What Everyone Needs to Know about the Economics and Politics of Food, and Even More

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The Economics of Food: How Feeding and Fuelling the Planet Effects Food Prices.(Link to Amazon entry)
Patrick Westhoff. FT Press ( Financial Times, Pearson Education Ltd), New Jersey 2010.
ISBN – 10: 0 – 13 – 700610 – 1
ISBN – 13: 978 – 0 – 13 – 700610 – 6

Patrick Westhoff is an experienced agricultural economist who has provided a reasonable book about the complex topic of food economics. It makes a change from heated discussions of food politics and the often one-sided discussion in many books about genetically manipulated food. Most of the book will be of interest to readers of GM Pundit. It covers topics such as the 2008 biofuel boom, the links between water availability and grain prices, and financial  speculation on food commodity prices.

Taken together with another book — Food Politics by Robert Paarlberg — we now have a reasonable accessible scholarly discussion of the whole context surrounding the debate about genetically manipulated foods. A brief quote below shows the style of the Patrick Westhoff text and it’s accessibility:

The 2005-2009 Experience
The growth in biofuel production between 2005 and the middle of 2008 was nothing short of amazing. In the United States, for example, ethanol production more than doubled in less than three years (Figure 1.1). A rapidly increasing share of the U.S. corn crop was devoted to ethanol production, and this limited the amount of grain available to provide food to people and feed to livestock around the world. At the same time, Brazil was rapidly increasing its production of ethanol from sugar. The European Union was increasing its pro¬duction of biodiesel from rapeseed oil, and biodiesel production from other vegetable oils was rising rapidly in the United States and other countries.
Food prices also increased sharply between 2005 and the middle of 2008. FAO’s index of world food prices rose 85 percent between September 2005 and its peak in June 2008 (Figure 1.2). The simultaneous increase in ethanol production and food prices led many to conclude that increased ethanol production was the cause of higher food prices.
When the price of tortillas rose in Mexico, people blamed the expansion of ethanol production in the United States. When vegetable oil prices rose around the world, people blamed the expansion of biodiesel production. The fundamental point of biofuel critics is valid: When corn, sugar, and vegetable oils are used to make biofuels, the immediate and direct effect is to reduce food availability, and the result is higher food prices. While the direction of the effect is clear, the size of the effect is not.
The critical question, then, is just how important the increase in biofuel production was in the context of all the other factors that were pushing up food prices between 2005 and the middle of 2008. The question remains controversial, not just because powerful interests on all sides of the debate cannot afford to cede the argument, but because the facts themselves are complex and open to alternative explanations.
Start with the simple question: How large was the impact of increased ethanol production on world cereal markets between 2005 and 2008? To examine that question, consider what happened to world cereal consumption between the 2005/2006 and 2007/2008 marketing years (Table 1.1).2 Depending on how one chooses to tell the story, the role of ethanol can appear relatively small or absolutely critical.

It’s nice see also there is a Kindle edition available through Amazon. It can save readers in Australia about 10 bucks.

Formats
Kindle Edition    US$12.59          
Hardcover     US$18.97    

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David Tribe is an applied geneticist, teaching graduate/undergrad courses in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne.