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

    Ethiopia's Anti-terrorism Law: Security or Silencing Dissent?

    Yonatan Tesfaye was detained in December 2015 on charges under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation; eleven statements from his Facebook page were used as evidence

    Egypt Orders Trial for Journalists Charged With Harboring Reporters

    Order targets journalists' union chief Yehia Qalash, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim for allegedly spreading false news, harboring fugitive colleagues

    Nigerian Oil Production Falls as Militant Attacks Take Toll

    Country no longer Africa's petroleum king due to renewed militancy in its oil-producing region

    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.
    New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahdai
    X
    Lisa Schlein
    May 31, 2016 1:56 PM
    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahda

    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Mobile App Allows Dutch Muslims to Rate their Imams

    If a young Dutch-Moroccan app developer has his way, Muslims in the Netherlands will soon be able to rate their imams online. Mohamed Mouman says imams rarely get feedback from their followers. He believes his app can give prayer leaders a better picture of what's happening in their communities — and can also keep young people from being radicalized. Serginho Roosblad reports from Amsterdam.
    Video

    Video Moscow Condemns NATO Plans to Beef Up Defense in Eastern Europe, Baltics

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday an upcoming "landmark summit" will enhance the alliance's defensive and deterrent presence in eastern Europe and the Baltics. He is visiting Poland ahead of the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Zlatica Hoke reports
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video F-35 Fighter Jet Draws Criticisms as Costs Mount

    America’s latest fighter plane, the F-35, has been mired in controversy. Critics cite cost, faulty design, and the attempt to use it to fill multiple roles. Even the pilot’s helmet is controversial. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Concerns Over Civilian Suffering as Iraqi Forces Surround Fallujah

    Thousands of residents are trapped inside the IS-held city ahead of a full scale Iraqi offensive aimed at retaking it.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora