Brazil's president slams U.S. corn-based ethanol at U.N. event

By Kris Bevill | June 02, 2008
Web exclusive posted June 5, 2008 at 1:12 p.m. CST

Brazil's President, Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, had harsh comments for the United States' corn ethanol program during his comments June 3 at the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization's High-Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy in Rome. "I am not in favor of producing ethanol from corn or other food crops," he said. "I doubt that anyone would go hungry, to fill up their car's fuel tank. Meanwhile, corn ethanol can obviously only compete with sugarcane ethanol when it is shot up with subsidies and shielded behind tariff barriers."

Later in his speech, Lula compared ethanol to cholesterol. "There is good ethanol and bad ethanol," he said. "Good ethanol helps clean up the planet and is competitive. Bad ethanol comes with the fat of subsidies."

In the same speech, Lula vehemently defended Brazil's biofuels program, which uses sugarcane as a feedstock, stating that he is "offended" anyone would blame biofuels for rising energy prices. "Biofuels are not the villain menacing food security in poor countries," he said. "Quite the contrary, when cultivated responsibly, in harmony with each country's reality, they can be important tools to generate income and pull countries out of food and energy insecurity. Brazil is an example of this."

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer had his chance to address the audience later in the day. His speech covered a wide-range of suggestions to improve the global food crisis - including the United States' financial assistance plan, the need to expand the use of biotechnology such as genetically modified organisms, and a call for countries to lessen their export restrictions. Schafer reiterated his stand that biofuels are only one of the causes for increased food prices and stressed the United States' commitment to invest heavily in second-generation biofuels. "Let there be no mistake, the United States is firmly committed to the sustainable production and use of biofuels both domestically and globally," he said.

FAO's High-Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy is being held June 3 to 5 at the organization's headquarters in Rome. For more information on the summit, visit www.fao.org.