April 30, 2008

Food Crisis Largely Due to Biofuel Production

A group of food scientists called for a reconsideration of plans to use foods such as corn and soybeans for biofuels.

Three senior scientists from CGIAR, an international research group aimed at fighting hunger, said if production of biofuels like ethanol was stopped it could reduce the price of corn by 20 percent.

President Bush, however, called for the United States to increase ethanol production in order to combat the national energy crisis exhibited by the high prices at the pump.

A biofuel moratorium this year alone could result in a drop in corn prices by 20 percent, and wheat prices would also decrease by about 10 percent between 2009-10.

Currently, the United States is the biggest biofuel producer in the world.

Joachim von Braun, Director General at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, the policy arm of CGIAR, said that more research should be done on developing non-grain crops, such as switchgrass, into biofuel.

He added that the United States and other countries have to make a hard choice between fighting high fuel prices and fighting world hunger.

"If you place a high value of food security for poor people, then the conclusion is clear that we step on the brake awhile," said von Braun. "If you place a high value on national energy security, other considerations come into play."

In a Tuesday press conference, President Bush said the high price of gasoline would ""spur more investment in ethanol as an alternative to gasoline."

"And the truth of the matter is, it's in our national interest that our farmers grow energy, as opposed to us purchasing energy from parts of the world that are unstable or may not like us," Bush said.

The price of corn has skyrocketed, rising over 60 percent between 2005 and 2007, according to a study conducted by the World Bank. The study noted that the main reason for the increase was more production of biofuels like ethanol.

President Bush said biofuel is responsible for about 15 percent of the rise in food costs. U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman Keith Williams put it closer to 20 percent.

Ethanol supporters say the corn used for fuels is the type only fed to livestock. However, other experts say it leads to higher livestock feed prices, thus higher food prices.

Von Braun acknowledged that many issues are contributing to the worldwide food crisis, but biofuel is one of the largest ones.

Legislators in Missouri are already considering lifting a requirement that fuel in that state contain 10 percent ethanol.

Up to 30 percent of the all food price increases from 2000-2007 could be due to biofuels, according to research from the International Food Policy Research Institute.

An industry-funded study claims the food cost rise from biofuels is 4 percent.

Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, said, "World agriculture can both feed and fuel the globe."


On the Net:

IFPRI Policy Brief: Rising Food Prices - What Should Be Done?