U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said Tuesday the world’s leaders have a responsibility to allow markets to provide food efficiently, without obstructing access to it or limiting safe technologies to produce it. Schafer leads the U.S. delegation to the U.N. summit on Food Security and Climate Change in Rome. The summit is being held at the headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
At a news conference Tuesday, Schafer said, “The United States is implementing an integrated a three-pronged strategy to combat rising global food prices. First, the president has committed an immediate and expanded humanitarian response that targets the most critical needs globally and supports those individuals who are most vulnerable to rising food prices."
“Second, we support urgent efforts to address the underlying causes of the food crisis in developing countries that have the potential to become major producers in their regions. Longstanding issues of improving agriculture productivity, alleviating market bottlenecks and promoting market-based principles remain and therefore require immediate attention. Third, we ask all countries to allow the free flow of food and the safe technologies that produce that food,” he said.
Schafer was asked whether biofuels production is a major contributor to higher food prices and shortages. Many critics of biofuels production say it takes away food from those in need and drives up the cost of food.
“Increased biofuels production is but one of many contributors to increased food prices. Other factors contributing to food price increase include rising energy costs, poor harvests in major grain producing countries and greater use of export restrictions,” he said.
The U.S. agriculture secretary said biofuels contributes only a small amount to food inflation prices.
“We are anticipating this year an over 40 percent increase in food price inflation globally, 43 percent approximately. Of that we can identify two to three percent of that price increase that is driven by biofuels. A majority, of course, is energy and the second largest piece or about equal piece is the increase in consumption around the world, which is using up the production stocks,” he said.
Schafer said the issue of agricultural subsidies would best be addressed at the Doha round of global trade talks. He also defended the use of genetically modified foods.
“Well, certainly we think that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are safe. We’ve been using them for 10 years in the United States and they have a proven effectiveness in increasing yields, in lowering the use of fertilizer, in providing better water and soil management and also increasing taste and appearance. So, you know, those are all good things,” he said.
Many countries oppose GMOs, citing possible safety reasons. However, Schafer reiterated, “Certainly, we have proven the safety environmentally from a human standpoint food safety issue that GMOs are fine to use.”