Former Secretary of Agriculture John Block can look at the food versus fuel issue from a number of angles. He ran the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President Reagen from 1981-1986. He was executive vice president of the Food Marketing Institute, which represents food retailers and wholesalers. He serves on the board of Friends of the World Food Program, a US-based non-profit organization dedicated to building support for the World Food Program and other hunger relief efforts. And he is an Illinois family farmer who produces both corn and hogs.
On Wednesday, Block shared his perspective on food prices and ethanol with the media at the National Press Club.
“The first point I would make is, yes, biofuels have had some impact on the price of food, we can’t deny that,” Block said. “But it’s pretty small, it’s hard to figure out exactly what it is.”
That’s because this is a very complicated issue, Block says, which includes factors such as increased demand for animal protein in developing countries, crops affected by weather, speculation in the futures markets, weakness of the dollar, and oil. “I dare say we would not even be standing up here right now if oil was $20 a barrel, but it’s not, it’s $120 and its likely to stay in that range and it puts us in a position we had not been in before,” he said.
With so many factors involved, Block says it’s unreasonable to give biofuels a majority of the blame for higher food prices, especially internationally. “Because we are not shorting the market on grain,” he said. “We are exporting more grain than we ever have in history.”
The positive side to this Block says is that higher prices equals investment and that equals more food. “Over time, with good prices for farm products, the world is going to produce more food products.”
“I believe that biofuels have an important place,” Block concluded. “All of this is home-grown, it makes jobs for us in the United States and its a clean fuel – those are good, positive things.”
Listen to Block’s comments here: [audio:http://www.zimmcomm.biz/rfa/rfa-press-block.mp3]