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The Carbohydrate Economy by Katherine Mullen

The newsletter touting the superiority of plant-based over petro-based products?and simultaneously expanding farming to become a community-based, "carbohydrate-based" economy with many more products: milk-based paints, bioplastic forks, corn-based aviation fuels, sugar cane plywood....The Institute for Local Self Reliance bursts forth with green plow jockeys taking on the fat cats of black gold. And it's all very complex. The carbohydrate economy may perpetuate sugar cane and its pollutants, and GMOs, and soy nerf balls. It could increase degradation of what are now conservation lands on farms, or simply switch perverse subsidies from corporate petro biz to corporate ag biz. But this fine newsletter has no illusions. Excellence, intelligence, and information are of the highest order.

"At the top, a carbohydrate economy is being driven by officials reacting to environmental crises: the water quality crisis, resulting from MTBE, and greenhouse gas emissions, resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. At the bottom, a carbohydrate economy is being driven by farmers reacting to economic crisis of agriculture. For those at the top the goal is to expand the market. For those at the bottom, the goal is to change the structure of agriculture to allow farmers to earn an adequate income. Both are seeking to build a sustainable economy. The challenge is to link these approaches with a comprehensive strategy that strengthens rural economies, enhances farmer security, and protects the environment.

"The history of biodegradable plastics is marked by high expectations and deep disappointments. Since the late 1980s a battalion of bioplastics ventures have been started with much fanfare, only to fold quietly a few years later....

...The bioplastics industry has had to overcome two major obstacles. One is their product's high cost: two or three times that of petroleum-derived plastics. The marketing hook for bioplastics has been that they are biodegradable. But false claims of biodegradability in the past and a lack of a widely accepted and credible degradability standard have undercut the public's trust. Still fresh in consumers' minds are memories of the 1989 fiasco, when Mobil Co. made a line of Hefty bags that it claimed would break down in a landfill. Within months, Mobil was sued by seven states for false advertising. The bags, made of polyethylene with a cornstarch additive, disintegrated into plastic particles in sunlight and did not degrade at all in a landfill....

...But the times may be changing for bioplastics.