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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs