U.S. agriculture secretary defends biofuels at U.N. conference

By Kris Bevill | June 02, 2008
Web exclusive posted June 5, 2008 at 1:05 p.m. CST

The United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization's High-Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy is being held June 3-5 at the organization's headquarters in Rome. The summit has brought together heads of state and government leaders from around the world to discuss the global food situation and climate change, with an emphasis on how it's affecting agriculture.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer is leading the U.S. delegation to the summit. Schafer held a news conference in Rome June 2, prior to the summit's official start, to discuss the United State's agricultural policies. As expected, many questions posed to the secretary regarded the nation's biofuels program and the effects biofuels policies are having on the global food market.

In his opening comments, Schafer included a review of the USDA's biofuels outlook. "We at the United States Department of Agriculture have plotted the long-term trends of price, yield, availability and consumption; and as we've looked at those long-term trends we are anticipating this year an over 40 percent increase in food price inflation globally, 43 percent approximately," he said. "Of that, we can identify 2 to 3 percent of that price increase that is driven by biofuels."

Schafer stated that the major factor in food price increases is higher energy costs, with rising demand contributing an almost equal percentage.

When asked about reports opposing the claim that biofuels contribute only 3 percent to the rise of global food prices, Schafer remained firm on his view and said one of the summit's benefits is gathering many countries together to share views and "reconcile numbers". He added that delegates to the summit are hoping to at least reach a "framework of an agreement of what the real causative factors of food price increases are."

However, on June 3 FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf lashed out at the United States in his opening speech during his call to defuse the current world food crisis.

Diouf said it was "incomprehensible" that the United States would spend over $11 billion dollars in subsidies in 2006 to divert millions of tons of cereal "mostly to satisfy a thirst for fuels for vehicles."

He pleaded with world leaders to supply $30 billion to aid world agriculture and avert future threats of food conflicts.