US Ag Secretary Defends Ethanol

Cindy Zimmerman

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer is defending the production of ethanol in Rome this week at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization High-Level Conference on World Food Security.

During a press conference with international media at the opening of the conference, Schafer answered a number of questions related to biofuels and stressed the minimal impact of production on food prices.

Ed Schafer“We at the United States Department of Agriculture have plotted the long-term trends of price, yield, availability and consumption; and as we’ve looked at those long-term trends we are anticipating this year an over 40 percent increase in food price inflation globally, 43 percent approximately,” Schafer said. “Of that, we can identify 2 to 3 percent of that price increase that is driven by biofuels. The majority of course is energy, and the second largest piece, or about equal piece, is the increase in consumption around the world which is using up the production stocks.”

The secretary also pointed out that production of biofuels is helping to alleviate some of the pressure from higher energy costs. “By biofuels, we are reducing the use of the high cost of oil today. It’s been estimated that we have, through biofuel production, reduced a million barrels a day of oil and oil record high prices,” he said.

In his address to the conference, Schafer stressed the United States commitment to feeding the world, while at the same time working toward greater energy security through sustainable production of biofuels.

“The use of sustainable biofuels can increase energy security, foster economic development especially in rural areas, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions without weighing heavily on food prices,” Schafer said in his prepared remarks. “A recently passed law requires that we minimize possible food security and environmental concerns, in part through significant investment in next-generation biofuel technologies that do not rely on grains and oilseeds used for food or feed.”

FAOEven the FAO admits that biofuels are only one factor in rising food costs. According to the FAO Biofuels Factsheet for the conference, “Demand from biofuel production is one cause of increasing food prices, but poor harvests in certain key exporting countries, low stock levels, high energy costs and increasing food demand due to rapid economic growth in some countries have also all contributed. It is the coincidence of all of these factors which has led to the dramatic increase in food prices, and which makes it difficult to estimate the precise impact of any single factor.

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