Food Before Fuel campaign launched

By Kris Bevill | June 02, 2008
Web exclusive posted June 13, 2008 at 10:15 a.m. CST

Led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a group of 25 food industry and environmental groups have launched a campaign to urge the U.S. Congress to readdress America's biofuels policy.

The Food Before Fuel campaign members are encouraging their legislators to "revisit and restructure policies that have increased our reliance on food as an energy source" and to urge them to develop alternative fuels derived from non-food feedstocks.

The campaign's website, www.foodbeforefuel.com, contains a petition individuals can sign to urge policymakers to take action on this manner.

Members of the campaign are: the American Bakers Association, American Beverage Association, American Conservative Union, American Frozen Food Institute, American Meat Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Earth Policy Institute, Environmental Working Group, Food For All, Grocery Manufacturers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, International Foodservice Distributors Association, MANA (National Latina Organization), National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Council of Chain Restaurants, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation, National Turkey Federation, Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits, Snack Food Association, The Hispanic Institute, Tortilla Industry Association, and Women Impacting Public Policy.

The National Restaurant Association, which represents 945,000 restaurants and food service outlets employing more than 13 million people. Maureen Ryan, media relations manager for the National Restaurant Association, told Ethanol Producer Magazine the association supports the development of efficient renewable fuels and believes the transition to biofuels produced from non-food feedstocks should be made as soon as possible. "We should not be pitting our food and energy needs against one another," she added.

Ryan, who disputed the USDA's recent statement that U.S. biofuels contribute only three percent to the rising food costs, countered that the United Nations has attributed a 30 percent increase in global food prices to U.S. biofuels.

A release issued by the National Restaurant Association admits that several factors, including higher oil and energy prices, have attributed to high food costs but states that U.S. biofuel policies are the only factor the government can change. "We agree that biofuels can help the U.S. become more energy independent, but it does not necessarily alleviate the cost of gasoline," Ryan said. "Even if we devoted the entire corn crop to ethanol, we wouldn't put a dent in America's gasoline supplies."

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has been a congressional advocate for ethanol, expressed his disappointment in the National Restaurant Association's participation in the campaign in a letter sent to the association's president and chief executive officer, Dawn Sweeney. "Restaurant owners should know that the farm value of every food dollar is only 19 cents," Grassley's letter said. "Perhaps the National Restaurant Association would be better served by asking GMA's member companies to reduce their portion of the remaining 81 cents of the food dollar by lowering transportation or packaging costs or lowering their profits. The GMA's efforts to undermine our biofuels policies won't lower food prices, but it will increase prices at the pump, and in turn drive food prices even higher."

Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen also issued a response to the campaign's attack on ethanol. "The repeated claim that ethanol is responsible for food price increases continues to mislead and misdirect because the real factors driving up world food prices are skyrocketing oil prices, rising demand in China and elsewhere, droughts and adverse weather, wild commodity speculation, and the decline in the value of the dollar," he said. "Instead of smearing American farmers and the only fuel that is backing out foreign oil, why aren't GMA and its allies pointing to the skyrocketing price of oil as the main cause of increasing food prices and the main reason American's have less to spend."

According to its website, the Food Before Fuel campaign is focusing its efforts on biofuels because "policies for subsidizing and mandating the conversion of corn to fuel are the only part of the food inflation equation that Congress controls."