Academic journal article Energy Law Journal

Frankenfuel: Genetically Modified Corn, Ethanol, and Crop Diversity

Academic journal article Energy Law Journal

Frankenfuel: Genetically Modified Corn, Ethanol, and Crop Diversity

Article excerpt


In his 2007 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush called for a twenty percent decrease in gasoline usage over the next ten years.1 Central to this proposal was a mandatory fuel standard requiring thirty-five billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuel by 2017. Increased, corn-based, ethanol production was likely to be the primary medium used to meet this goal, as evidenced by its prominence in the creation of the Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS)3 and introduction of two bills addressing energy independence and support of farmers who grow crops necessary for ethanol production.4

Much has changed since the 2007 State of the Union. The RFS has now been in effect for over a year, the two bills have become law, fossil fuel prices have gone on dramatic rollercoaster ride,5 world economies have crumbled,6 and the United States has a new president. What has remained is corn-based ethanol.7

Support for ethanol produced through traditional, corn-based methods, has not waned since the 2007 State of the Union,8 but neither has development of ethanol produced from cellulosic biomass and feedstock slowed. However, widespread production of ethanol from cellulosic sources is in its infancy.9 Corn remains the primary crop used to produce ethanol in the United States;10 subsidies for farmers who choose to plant corn for the production of ethanol have been increased.11 These increased subsidies encouraging farmers to plant more corn have potential long term consequences that have not been fully addressed.

This ' comment focuses on the impact of planting greater amounts of genetically modified corn for ethanol production, and its potentially serious, and environmentally dangerous, long-term consequences on crop diversity. First, the state of corn and crop diversity will be addressed, with particular heed to the potential negative consequences of increased genetically modified corn cultivation. Second, government subsidies, intended to promote ethanol production, which steer farmers towards planting more corn, and their effects on genetically modified corn production will be discussed. Lastly, the ramifications of cellulosic ethanol technology and release of land set aside for conservation and overproduction prevention by the Conservation Reserve Program12 will be examined with particular focus on crop diversity maintenance.


A. Potential Long-Term Negative Consequences of Genetically Modified Corn Use on Crop Diversity

U.S. corn production has significant environmental costs. Corn cultivation requires a significantly greater amount of energy, water, and fertilizers as opposed to other crops.13 For example, corn requires more nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop. The high volume of chemicals required to sustain the nation's corn crop erode the topsoil, in turn requiring more chemicals to make up for the nutrients lost through erosion.15 The United States has lost half of its topsoil since I960,16 and seventy-five percent of the genetic diversity in agriculture has been eliminated over the twentieth century, in large part by loss of topsoil.17 In the face of these statistics, we have modified our crops' genetic structure in order to maintain a high volume of agricultural production.

Much of U.S. corn has been grown from hybridized or genetically modified seeds in order to make the plant more viable in colder climates, increase yields, resistant to drought, and resistant to insects.18 Corn production has been made more lucrative through these advances.19 However, the use of genetically modified corn within the current U.S. corn crop, and projected increases due to ethanol production, present serious obstacles to maintaining crop diversity.

1. Crop Diversity

Genetic diversity enables crops to adapt to varied growing conditions, develop different varieties offering resistance to environmental factors like pests or drought, and alter their nutritional profile. …

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