Transnational corporations have ethanol flowing in their veins


Planet earth is getting ready to consolidate a new variation of the energy matrix, and it is doing it led by the dominant power: capital. The industrial model of production and consumption is based on the intensive use of energy. If oil runs out -they say- all we have to do is find substitutes that will allow us to do more of the same. As the infamous Uruguayan rear admiral and despicable dictator Hugo Márquez once said in a public speech, in an attempt to describe how the country had “changed” under the military dictatorship: “We’ve made a 360-degree turn.” Popular ingenuity has also credited Márquez with another legendary saying, which some attribute to the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, others to Groucho Marx, and still others to Augusto Pinochet: “We were standing at the edge of the abyss, but we’ve taken a step forward.”



Coinciding with the alleged end of petroleum, more and more voices are now admitting that its use and abuse has produced global warming. There are, obviously, other sources of greenhouse gases, but none of them significant enough to allow fossil fuels to dodge the enormous responsibility they have in current world climate change. The much-touted transformation of the energy matrix has been steering public opinion towards considering the so-called “biofuels” as the better option. The term chosen to denote this kind of fuels is deliberately misleading, as it draws on a host of positive concepts, such as life (bio) and energy, using the prefix “bio” as a faintly veiled synonym of “eco,” with its repeated allusion to “clean” fuels or energy.


That is why, those of us who have learned to be wary of the malicious language used by transnational corporations always try to clarify terms as much as possible, to unveil the true concepts behind them. In this sense, the term “agrofuels” gives a more accurate description of these fuels, one that is closer to reality, as so far only two such products have been mentioned and they both come from agriculture: ethanol -primarily from sugarcane and corn- and agrodiesel, which can be obtained from various oilseeds.


But this direct relationship with agriculture, land, and soil, while being a determining factor, is not the only reason for divesting agrofuels of their “bio” category. The model that is being consolidated to achieve industrial volumes of ethanol and agrodiesel production is based on the channeling of the productive cycle towards large factory complexes, and it demands enormous quantities of raw materials to feed distilleries and pressing and refining plants. This will be done prioritizing profitability, following the logic of capitalism, and therefore devoting vast extensions of land to monoculture. A green vision from east to west and from north to south: a green desert, dollar green.


The Moebius Ring


Another 360-degree turn. Because monoculture is the ultimate embodiment of the rural-based industrial model, an insatiable squanderer of artificial inputs, such as transgenic seeds, agro-toxic fertilizers, and increasingly sophisticated and expensive machinery, and -the ultimate paradox!- a huge consumer of fuels. As in the Moebius ring, the ant of the -increasingly merged and concentrated- transnational corporations is the sole passenger of its own eternity.


Monocultures are green deserts because they suppress life, which always means diversity, biodiversity; because in practice they condemn both land and people -the few that remain working the land after the endemic expansion of single-crop farming- to a system of servitude. The green desert promotes the concentration of land -in ownership and in use-, to an extent unprecedented in the history of humankind, and those who stay on the land have to pay the price of becoming mere laborers, rural hands, operators of the rural factory.


Away from their land, from their scars and affections, their history and culture, their knowledges and their lives, the people driven out of the land will continue to engross the human sewers created by the “failure” of the urban industrial model that has long revealed the foul side of its private feast.


No one can ignore this truth. At the most, those who make the decisions will look the other way and cover their ears, but there are no surprises here. Monocultures advance with the complicity -if not the open encouragement- of the governments of the region.

The model that is being consolidated to achieve industrial volumes of ethanol and agrodiesel production demands vast extensions of land devoted to monocultures.


Meanwhile, the designers of our future never stop to think about these matters, preoccupied as they are in imagining the impossible to sell it at the highest possible price. Let’s see some samples taken from an extensive catalog:


Every year, the state of Illinois, the heart of America’s Corn Belt, hosts the Farm Progress Show, something like an agro-industrial curiosity fair, where no one would be surprised to see the mythical “bearded lady” or even Spider Man. According to one news coverage,1 some of the main novelties exhibited there by the transnational seed manufacturers had to do with maximizing the utilization of crops destined for fuel production. Thus, for example, “Syngenta has already developed a (new) technology. It is a product (corn) that will be placed on the market in 2008, which comes2 with an incorporated alpha amylase enzyme, so that companies will not have to add this enzyme during the process of grain fermentation for ethanol production.” This corn will be no good as food, it will be grown for alcohol-production purposes only.


What’s more: the report describes how at the Farm Progress Show Curt Kessler, a field crop salesman for the company explained that ‘This saves costs in ethanol production.’ Kessler was even more optimistic with respect to the impact of this technology. He pointed out that ethanol manufacturers might even reward grain farmers who incorporate this new development.” Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that it will be much more profitable to produce this corn with the built-in enzyme than the edible variety? How will the weakened local governments be able to untwist the Moebius ring of transnational seed producers, supposing any of them even wishes to do so?


Not to be outdone by Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences -according to the same report- exhibited “a hybrid that, while originally developed for pigs and chickens, due to its high level of energy, is now being consider for biofuels. The product is Supercede HE High Energy, which in average has 50 percent more oil and 50 percent more metabolizing energy.”


Wringing ethanol from stones


The same thing is happening with sugarcane. In Brazil, trials for non-edible transgenic sugarcane with greater alcohol yield3 are practically finished. The research was conducted by companies such as the Votorantim Group, but also by universities and large farmer cooperatives, and 85 percent of the funding came from the Brazilian government.


Not by chance, the Votorantim Group, one of Brazil’s oldest, most multifaceted and powerful economic conglomerates, is involved in researching genetically modified crops for alcohol production. One of its main areas of production is paper, that is, wood pulp, the “interface” between trees and paper. Many are now convinced that the pulp mill thrust in the Mercosur region is driven primarily by the vision of the promising future that this pulp offers for ethanol production.


According to a World Rainforest Movement (WRM) report4, the US Department of Energy has granted a total of US$ 385 million in research subsidies to six different projects aimed at optimizing and reducing costs of wood pulp ethanol production.

Son cada vez más numerosas las voces de alerta sobre la ineficiencia de los agrocombustibles para frenar el calentamiento global, y por ende detener y revertir el proceso de cambio climático


According to the WRM report, “Cellulosic ethanol has become a new commodity attracting powerful groups from various sectors that are constructing an intricate labyrinth of interconnections, mergers, partnerships. Biotechnology companies such as Diversa Corp, Genencor (US), Novozymes Inc. (Denmark), share interests with automobile manufacturers such as Ascoma (US), or Volkswagen, and with oil companies such as Chevron and BP. In their research they are supported by research centres such as Craig Venter (US), Scion and AgResearch (New Zealand), and the Swedish SweTree Technologies. For its part, ArborGen -involving the paper companies International Paper and Mead Westvaco and the biotechnology company Genesis- is assessing the feasibility of marketing bio-fuels made from cellulose.” Another private party.


A false alternative


To complete the picture, there are increasingly more voices being raised in warning that agrofuels, in their current form, are ineffective in halting global warming and thus in stopping and reversing the process of climate change already underway. Hartmut Michel, for example, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, declared to the Spanish newspaper El País de Madrid5 that “biofuels do not reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” and that promoting this alternative internationally “is causing the loss of rainforest in Indonesia, Malaysia, some parts of Africa and Brazil. Biofuels are a very attractive idea -he added-, the term ‘bio’ is quite convincing, but I am not the only one who’s criticizing biofuels; you just have to do the math,” he cautioned.


Along the same lines, the authors of a study published by the magazine Science6 set out to compare the amount of carbon gas emissions (responsible for the greenhouse effect) saved by agrofuel crops and the amount of such emissions prevented through other land uses. These scientists concluded that in terms of ecological balance, instead of producing agrofuels “policy makers may be better advised to focus on increasing the efficiency of fossil fuel use, to conserve existing forests and savannahs, and to restore natural forest and grassland habitats on cropland that is not needed for food.


Agrofuel production based on monocultures and transgenic plants is, without a doubt, a 360-degree turn, and, standing as we are at the edge of the abyss, a huge and suicidal step forward.



Carlos Amorín

© Rel-UITA

September 22, 2007





1 “El maíz en la cima del desarrollo” [Corn at the summit of development], La Nación, Argentina, Sept. 01, 2007

2 Stress added. Note the term “comes,” devoid of beginning, drained of origin. The seed comes, as on a moving band, packaged, labeled, and ready to use.

3 RAP-AL, “Transgénicos al día” [Update on GMOs], Nº 45; and

4 Raquel Núñez, WRM.

5 Radio Mundo Real.

6 Renton Righelato and Dominick Spracklen. Science, Aug. 17, 2007.



1: Rel-UITA

2: Moebius Band,


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