Schafer Says Don’t Blame Biofuels For Food Crisis

This week U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer is in Rome for the World Food Security conference, which is hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO). The meeting will address food supply and demand issues in the face of rising food prices. More than 40 heads of state will attend the meeting.

He’ll likely be in the hot seat regarding the global food crisis — but he plans to defend U.S. policies.

Schafer said he will put forth the U.S. strategy in a three-pronged approach. First, the U.S. will focus on immediate and expanded humanitarian assistance to countries unable to meet minimum nutrition standards. Second, the U.S. supports attacking the underlying causes for the lack of food availability in developing countries that have the capacity to rapidly increase production. Third, the U.S. will propose that all countries expand research and promote innovative technology to improve food production — including biotechnology.

Schafer discussed the food summit at a press conference late last week. According to a NYTImes.com report, Schafer said a USDA analysis had determined that biofuel production was responsible for only 2 percent to 3 percent of the increase in global food prices, while biofuels had reduced consumption of crude oil by a million barrels a day.

"We think that policy-wise in the United States of America — and certainly in the rest of the world — as we see the price of oil and petroleum escalate dramatically beyond anyone’s imagination, that one of the ways to deal with that is to produce biofuels which are renewables, better for the environment and help lower that cost," he said.

Ethanol and biofuels are coming under increasing criticism from foreign leaders and members of Congress, as grocery prices climb in the developed world and malnutrition and hunger threaten to spread in the poorest nations.

Just hours before his comments, a major report prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was released in Paris that urged countries to reconsider biofuels policies in the wake of soaring food prices.

The report also encouraged countries that have balked at allowing genetically modified crops to reconsider their use as a way to improve yields.

In a related matter, the World Bank on Thursday announced that it would increase spending on agriculture and food programs to $6 billion in the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1, up from $4 billion. This will include $200 million to be used as grants for countries most vulnerable to the food crisis, according to the NYTimes.com article.

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