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Corn-fuel demand drives meat off America's plate

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Corn shortages pushed the price of corn to such a high in Mexico last month that thousands marched in protest. Now, the price soaring of corn feed means the US might just find itself on an enforced diet too, as the farm industry reports a second significant fall in the output of beef and chicken.

Last year, the US petrol industry switched from using an additive called MTBE to using ethanol. Both chemicals are added in a bid to reduce smog, but MTBE is not well tolerated by humans, and instances of it seeping into the grounds prompted the switch.

The ethanol fuel industry now takes a substantial share of the corn crop: it is forecast to use 2.15 billion bushels of the 2006 crop and 3.2 billion bushels of what is grown in 2007.

Since then, the price of corn feed has doubled, according to the US Department for Agriculture (USDA).

"The decline in beef carcass weights reflects several factors, including higher feed costs, harsh winter weather, and higher-than-expected first quarter beef slaughter," said USDA.

To save on feed, farmers will keep their cattle on grass for longer, taking fewer animals to the slaughter houses, it added. For similar reasons, fewer chicks are being hatched. The result is that 60 million pounds of beef and 163 million pounds of chicken will not be making their way onto supermarket shelves.

The USDA also noted that both Brazil and Argentina are growing what look likely to be record crops of corn. ®

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