News / USA

US Official: Biofuels 'Scapegoat' for High Food Prices

With food prices at or near record highs, agriculture ministers from the Group of 20 major economies will be meeting for the first time next week in Paris. Critics say one factor putting pressure on food prices is the use of food crops to produce biofuels like ethanol.  U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Monday said the American ethanol industry plays only a minor role in rising food prices. But he added government support for the industry may be waning.

Secretary Vilsack told a luncheon gathering in Washington not to believe everything one hears about ethanol's role in today's high and volatile food prices. "The truth of the matter is that corn-based ethanol does not deserve the scapegoat reputation that some folks often attempt to assign to it," he said.

Critics, however, point to the fact that 40 percent of the U.S. corn - or maize - crop is now used to produce the biofuel.  The industry grew rapidly in the last decade, and many analysts say that is part of the reason why maize supplies are tighter than they have been in 15 years. And those extremely tight supplies push prices up and make them very sensitive to any bumps in the market like bad weather.

Policy analyst Marie Brill at the advocacy group ActionAid wonders whether too much is being asked of farmers. "Are we setting our farmers up to fail by asking them to feed the world and our cars in a changing climate?" Brill asked.

Vilsack says no. He conceded that biofuels played a role the last time food prices rose sharply in 2007 and 2008, but he said it was minor -- only 10 percent of the increase.

And, he added, Americans have been benefiting from the biofuel industry's growth in a number of ways. It is providing jobs and economic opportunities in rural America, where rates of chronic poverty and unemployment are highest. Vilsack said blending ethanol into gasoline has lowered the cost at the pump by about 25 cents a liter. And he said biofuels hold even more promise for the future.

"If we're to meet the president's challenge of reducing our reliance on foreign oil by a third, we're going to need to have a robust biofuel industry,” Vilsack said. “Now, to do that, we're going to have to move away from corn-based ethanol, which we recognize and which we are doing."

Vilsack pointed to government-backed research on biofuels from algae, grasses, and other crops. But critics say none of those crops are viable alternatives to food-based biofuels yet.

In addition to the competition between food and fuel, many critics object to the fact that the ethanol industry gets about $ 6 billion in government subsidies at a time when business is booming and budgets are tight.

ActionAid's Marie Brill says even the industry itself recognizes it can stand on its own. "There's been this growing consensus even within the ethanol industry that the subsidy and the tariff at this point could be removed without having a big impact on the production and use of biofuels," Brill stated.

Tom Vilsack does not disagree. He wants to see the industry grow. "Does that mean continuing subsidies forever? No. But I think we have to be very careful about the way in which we go about reducing those subsidies," he said.

Vilsack wants to see funds redirected to producing gas pumps and cars that are better able to handle ethanol.

But critics say the government should not continue to support food-based biofuels until viable alternatives are developed.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid