grain_for_ethanolA shocking new analysis by the respected Earth Policy Institute has revealed that over a quarter of the total US grain crop was turned into ethanol to fuel cars last year.

The figure has tripled since 2004.

Because the US is by far the largest grain exporter, the fact that it is feeding an increasing amount of grain to its vehicles rather than people, will have a damaging effect on world food supplies.

The Institute points out that the 107 million tons of grain that went to U.S. ethanol distilleries in 2009 was enough to feed 330 million people for one year at average world consumption levels.

And because the US subsidises its ethanol production by a massive $6 billion, this means it is effectively subsidizing rising food costs for the rest of the world.

And given that a record number of people – 1 billion – went hungry last year, the situation is somewhat perverse as the rich feed food to the cars and the poor go hungry.

The figures sound even more perverse when you bring that number down to a human scale: The amount of grain needed to fill the tank of an SUV with ethanol just once can feed one person for an entire year.

The situation is also set to get worse as the Renewable Fuel Standard mandates that more food be converted to fuel.

“There is a direct link between biofuels and food prices. The needs of the hungry must come before the needs of cars,” argues Meredith Alexander, biofuels campaigner at ActionAid in London.