I’ve been a pretty harsh critic of industrial agriculture for a while. I’ve also been known to utter unkind words about the government’s extraordinary, multibillion-dollar effort to promote ethanol.

But I’ve changed my mind. I now believe chemical-dependent, monocrop agriculture can be counted on to not only “feed the world,” but also keep its hundreds of millions of cars on the road — now and forever. What turned me around? This news:

Archer Daniels Midland Co., DuPont Co., John Deere, Monsanto, and the Renewable Fuels Association have banded together to launch the Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy. And guess what?

The Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy believes that through innovation, agriculture can meet the growing global demand for food and energy. We know that we have reached just the tip of the iceberg in discovering the full potential for agriculture in the United States and around the world.

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What do they mean by “innovation”? According to Reuters, “The group believes that agricultural innovation — such as genetically modified crops — is the best way to address global hunger, not reducing biofuel production.”

Awesome! At first I was a bit worried. Would this be a scrappy grassroots project, or would it have a big budget to get the message across? The Reuters piece set me at ease:

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[Executive director Mark] Kornblau did not say exactly how much money the founding members contributed but said “the initial budget is in the multimillions.”

Update [2008-7-28 7:55:23 by Tom Philpott]: I should have noted that (beautifully named) Kornblau is a veteran Democratic Party media man. He served as national spokesman and chief communications strategist for the ’08 Edwards presidential campaign, after serving a similar role on John Kerry’s 2004 run. Before that, he was chief communications director for Sen. Evan Bayh (D.-Ind), a man so enamored of ethanol that as recently as last year, he was hectoring Nascar to switch to the corn-based fuel. Declared the Senator: “No one loves this country more than auto racing fans, and NASCAR has a unique opportunity to take a step that will help the environment and help our national security.” We should remember that ethanol represents one of the few real examples of bipartisan consensus in the Bush II era.