The Food Industry's Propaganda Campaign Against Ethanol

The food industry spent considerable time and money in 2007 and 2008 turning the public against ethanol, using underhanded tactics and misleading information. As you talk about the Open Fuel Standard to your friends and family, you will find that the food industry's propaganda campaign was fairly successful. For a lot of people, as soon as you bring up the word "ethanol," they have a strong negative reaction to it. Growing our own fuel will raise food prices, they will be quick to tell you. It will cause starvation and "it takes more energy to make than you get out of it."

Where did these strong beliefs come from? They were orchestrated by a combination of the livestock industry, the big food corporations, and the oil industry.

The oil industry is understandable. But why the food industry? Because the processed food conglomerates want grain to be as cheap as possible. High fructose corn syrup in particular is a widely used and important sweetener for the food industry, particularly for carbonated beverages.

A little known fact, however, is that when grains are too abundant and too inexpensive it causes major problems with food growers in America. And America's cheap grain on the world market has ruined the livelihoods of small farmers around the world.

Because American farmers were so successful at growing corn, their high yields threatened to bankrupt them because they couldn't sell their corn for enough money to stay in business. In fact, the ethanol industry in the U.S. was a solution to that problem. They searched for other markets for their corn, and found ethanol.

But the processed food industry liked the days of overabundant, ultra-cheap grain, so they mounted a campaign against the ethanol industry, blaming ethanol on rising food costs, even though it was clear that rising oil prices had the largest impact on rising food prices. But food lobbyists teamed up with lobbyists from the livestock industry to ruin the U.S. ethanol industry. The livestock industry likes cheap grain too. The cheaper the better. 

Freedom, the Movie

FREEDOM is a one-hour documentary that takes a hard look at America’s perilous and unsustainable addiction to foreign oil. It explores the role that ethanol plays as a homegrown alternative that will boost the domestic economy, create jobs and reduce our need to rely on dangerous and unstable parts of the world for our fuel.

Filmmakers Josh Tickell and his wife Rebecca set out on a journey to take a fresh look at Ethanol and try to separate the myth from the hyperbole. This “green evangelist” couple is uniquely suited to lead this inquiry. Their 2008 Sundance-winning film FUEL explored in depth the world of biofuels here in America and around the world. In their new film, FREEDOM, they again take the pulse of the biofuel industry in 2011 and find that the time is right to correct some misperceptions about America’s original alternative fuel.


The following was written by Josh Tickell, one of the filmmakers of Freedom.

Freedom is a powerful word. But it tends to be overused in today’s agenda-driven world of politics, consumerism and media.

When my wife Rebecca and I set out to make a movie that dealt truthfully with ethanol, we had mixed feelings around ethanol. Obviously, alcohol based fuel isn’t oil. Growing up deep within the oil laden bayous of Louisiana, I knew that was a good thing. But how much better than oil, if at all, was ethanol?

That was the basic question with which we began our investigation. What emerged was first a formidable and intense set of arguments from three powerful individuals — former NATO commander Wesley Clark, former President Reagan National Security Advisor, Bud McFarlane, and Former CIA director Jim Woolsey. In brief, they explained that our exporting of cash to import oil is bleeding America dry.

But there was a deeper argument that wasn’t at first so clear — Americans aren’t free to choose which fuel they use. Said a different way, each time we fill up with regular gasoline, we have to choose the fuel that actually causes harm to our air, water, soil, economy, communities and security. We’re being forced to sell off our future — and the profits for that sale are going to the shareholders of large oil companies.

But true choice is never forced.

Freedom to choose doesn’t require we buy fuel from companies that drill irresponsibly and endanger our beautiful shores. It doesn’t require we send the wealth of our nation abroad. And it certainly doesn’t mandate that we give trillions to banks that are deeply invested into the oil game.

As we learned on our journey to make the movie that became titled “Freedom,” a lot of people are waking up to the precarious situation that oil dependence has put us in. But most people are still unaware of the solutions. We learned a lot about the benefits of ethanol and the movie shows that, on every account where ethanol was deemed bad by the press, the oil companies, or the NGO’s — their claims were unfounded. Ethanol is beneficial, it works, it cuts emissions, it’s compatible with the environment and it makes sense.

But even if you don’t believe any of that and you like oil, as an American, you should have the freedom to choose between fossil fuel and ethanol. But we don’t — and I assert it’s because not enough of us are fighting for that freedom.

Our forefathers knew that freedom is something that must be defended with vigilance and, if necessary, fought for. Perhaps we got a little lazy as a nation. The promise of endless, cheap oil seduced us. Well, that promise didn’t pay out. The bad news is, we’re deeply addicted. The good news is we have a solution — it’s called ethanol. But to bring that solution to bear, we must be prepared to fight.

It’s not really a fight for a different fuel, or even a fight for a choice at the pump. Instead, this fight is truly for our freedom. If we don’t engage people at every level of our lives — from our friends and neighbors to our business associates and PTA members to our congressional representatives — about the absolute, unequivocal necessity of increased protections for, mandates for, and incentives for ethanol — we do a disservice to the word freedom and to all those who have fought for it. I invite you to use the movie “FREEDOM” as a tool in your arsenal. Let’s make sure our freedom is protected. This is one fight we have to win.

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Maintaining the Monopoly

The oil industry has actively blocked our access to competing fuel. We have 160,000 stations today with gasoline pumps and only 2,900 stations with at least one E85 pump (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline), and not one station selling M85 (85% methanol, 15% gasoline).

Most of the 2,900 E85 pumps are at independent stations because oil companies have tried to block E85 being sold at their stations. They’ve used several tactics according to a report by the Consumer Federation of America. One is a requirement that the franchise owners must buy all their fuel from the oil company. Another is requiring franchise owners to sign a contract that limits how much they can advertise E85. Some contracts dictate that if a station owner puts in an E85 pump, it must be on a separate island and not under the main canopy.

Loren Beard, senior manager for energy planning and policy for Chrysler put it succinctly: “Big Oil is at the top of the list for blocking the spread of ethanol acceptance by consumers and the marketplace.”

- Excerpted from the book, Fill Your Tank With Freedom