01 May 2008 16:24 [Source: ICIS news]
By Joe Kamalick
After a months-long drumbeat of reports and mainstream news stories finding fault with ethanol on energy, environmental and efficiency grounds, biofuels producers and their feedstock corn growers called media to the National Press Club here to witness their counter attack.
The headliner was John Block, former
Block argued that the main engines of increasing food costs worldwide include high oil prices, growing food demand in developing countries, droughts that have hurt grain crops globally, commodities speculators, the weak US dollar, grain export restrictions among some Asian producing nations and opposition to genetically modified grains that produce greater yields.
“Food demand is escalating in
“The droughts in
“There is a lot more happening out there than just the minor influence of biofuels, and it is unreasonable to blame biofuels for a major part in this,” he said.
Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and himself a farmer, said he has been disturbed by the number and variety of false accusations against corn ethanol.
Among other recent news stories, Buis cited last year’s report of riots in
“In fact, tortillas are made from white corn, not yellow corn, and under a US-Mexico trade agreement we are prevented from exporting white corn to Mexico in excess of 2% of their consumption, so ethanol is blameless there,” he said.
Buis noted that in advance of last year’s US Fourth of July holiday - the heaviest beer consumption period in the
A shortage of pasta and related price increases in
As did Block and other biofuels or agriculture spokesmen at the conference, Buis pointed his finger at sharply increased oil prices as the principal culprit for food price hikes. A one-third jump in oil cost will generate nearly a 1% rise in food prices while a parallel increase in corn prices will cause a food price increase of only 0.3%, he said.
Rick Tolman, chief executive of the National Corn Growers Association, blamed a “clever misinformation campaign that is trying to turn Bo Peep into an axe murderer”.
He pointed out that corn grown for ethanol is a different variety than that farmed for food, and that
Tolman also noted that
The rash of negative media and institutional reports about corn ethanol, he said, “are part of a clever misinformation campaign”.
“If you want to know the source of this misinformation, look at $4/gal gasoline and $120/bbl oil,” Tolman said.
He suggested that oil producers and refiners have encouraged negative reports on biofuels to direct attention away from huge energy cost increases, especially in poorer countries that rely chiefly on oil imports.
Bob Dinneen, president of ethanol trade group Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), also cited sharp price increases for oil, gasoline and diesel fuel along with a surge in global food demand, the weak dollar and speculators as the real culprits in food price increases.
“Without question, the common denominator underlying all of the crises affecting the globe today is the skyrocketing price of oil,” Dinneen said.
He also blamed European nations and some African countries for government policies banning genetically modified grains technology that could improve crop yields on both continents.
Block said that a positive side to rising food prices worldwide will be an inevitable increase in agricultural investments globally and an increasing acceptance for genetically modified food grains.
Block, Tolman, Buis and Dinneen all called for increased
Dinneen said that while his association and farmer groups would continue to press the case for ethanol, he did not think the rash of criticism will seriously threaten support for biofuels on Capitol Hill.
“I don’t see an erosion of support on the Hill,” he said. “Congressional and other policymakers are studious and are not likely to make decisions based on news reports.”
He cautioned too that new efforts under way to cut back or even halt the new US mandate for 36bn gal/year of biofuels production and consumption by 2022 could undermine the long term goal of producing biofuels from non-food cellulosic feedstock such as switch grass and wood chips.
“There may be some little loss of support” as a consequence of recent bad press, Dinneen said, “but it is our job to correct that.”
For more on biofuels see Simon Robinson’s Big Biofuels Blog
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