Just two years ago, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to require gas stations to sell a 10 percent ethanol blend whenever it is no more expensive than traditional gasoline. But ethanol has created a split in the state's farming community.
Several lawmakers who voted for the ethanol requirement sponsored a bill earlier this year to repeal the biofuels mandate, but the bill did not pass. Republican governor candidate Sarah Steelman is campaigning behind a call for lifting the state's ethanol requirement.
Rep. Charlie Schlottach said a House committee will spend the summer discussing ideas for keeping the livestock and biofuels industries sustainable, regulation of large animal feeding operations and other issues affecting the Missouri's farms.
The concern driving the ethanol opposition is higher corn and animal feed prices that have many livestock producers worried about whether they will be able to stay in business.
Other critics worry about the precedent, in which state government creates a guaranteed market for a product. And at least one municipality — Kansas City — cited fears that more ethanol use would make it more difficult to meet federal clean air requirements.
Schlottach, a Republican, said the state should look for ways to make animal agriculture and biofuels each sustainable. He said his committee won't be looking to justify or debunk ethanol — just identify objective facts to help lawmakers in future public policy decisions. But he does acknowledge some worries about using crops as an energy source.
"Agriculture's No. 1 focus needs to be on food and not on energy," he said. "And I think we've taken our eye off the ball."
The Missouri Corn Growers Association, the most vocal defender of the ethanol requirement, said that agriculture should focus on food, but that doesn't mean it must ignore its ability to contribute to energy needs. The commodity group has touted the ethanol requirement for lowering gas prices and helping corn farmers stay in business.
"Ethanol and food are topics that touch everyone, and I'm encouraged that our public policy makers are focusing on this," Ashley McCarty, the group's director of public policy.
The interim legislative committee also plans to tackle the dispute over animal feeding operations that has split the state's farmers.
Much of the controversy has focused on who should be allowed to regulate them. More than 30 cities and counties have adopted their own health and zoning ordinances designed to restrict such farms.
Supporters of those ordinances argue that animal feeding operations are a matter of local control and the rules that govern them should be decided by those living in the area.
But some of the state's largest farming groups, Gov. Matt Blunt and others contend that the local ordinances have been unreasonable and have balkanized Missouri's rules for farming.