CNBC reporter Erin Burnett offered a bit of perspective to hyped-up media reports of rice rationing in the United States on the April 24 NBC “Today” show, even blaming ethanol for actual rice shortages around the world.
Burnett blamed “a bit more paranoia” for rice shortage fears in the United States.
Recent media reports have hyped shortage fears as warehouse chains like Sam’s Club have started limiting rice purchases. The “Today” segment before Burnett’s comments – a report by CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla – hyped the problem.
Although Quintanilla acknowledged the U.S. rice industry says there is no shortage and blames media hype for frantic buying, he also said the purchase limits indicate “an outright shortage” and “prices … are now wreaking havoc overseas and raising questions about whether the next big shortage is looming right here at home.”
On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Sharon Alfonsi hyped the announcement that Sam’s Club “is now limiting the amount of rice customers can buy: four 20-pound bags, no exceptions.”
Alfonsi’s segment featured Lester Brown, founder of the liberal Earth Policy Institute, who compared an 80-pound limit on rice to “my memories of World War II.”
But that’s paranoia, according to Burnett, who said “we actually have a lot of rice in this country. We export quite a bit of rice, so we don’t have any shortages here but around the world the problem is severe.”
Burnett followed in an increasingly popular network news line of blaming rising food prices on increased demand for corn-based ethanol.
“The largest exporter of corn in the world, it’s the United States of America and we are using a lot of that corn, you heard Carl, about 30 percent of it to go into gasoline,” Burnett reported. “That means farmers, corn prices go up, farmers want to plant more, but that means less of everything else gets planted. So you can see the pressure on prices continues to rise for everything and a big part of the problem is ethanol.”
Burnett was right about market forces affecting food prices. But, like many of her network news colleagues, Burnett failed to mention the cause behind those market forces.
The increased demand for corn to make the gasoline additive isn’t natural demand – the American people aren’t demanding ethanol for fuel. The cause is government mandates – created in 2005 and increased in 2007 – for ethanol to be mixed into the nation’s gasoline supplies for environmental reasons.