US biotech industry seeks Bush farm bill approval

19 May 2008 22:42  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US biotech industry on Monday urged President George Bush to approve the new $289bn (€185bn) farm bill, saying the legislation that Bush has vowed to veto would help the US transition to non-food biofuels.


The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) said the massive farm bill is so essential to US biofuel technology development that Congress must vote to override the president if he wields his veto pen.


The farm bill, HR-2419, was approved by the US House and Senate last week and sent to the White House on Friday. Bush is expected to veto the measure, perhaps later this week before Congress breaks on Friday (23 May) for its week-long Memorial Day vacation (26-30 May).


Formally titled “The Food and Energy Security Act of 2008,” the farm bill supports domestic biofuels production in part by continuing a 54 cents/gal tariff on imports of foreign bio-ethanol. It also renews the federal subsidy for refiners’ blending of corn ethanol into the US transportation fuels mix, although the tax credit is reduced from 51 cents/gal to 45 cents/gal.


In addition - and of particular interest to biotech companies - the farm bill sets a new tax credit of $1.01/gal through the end of 2012 for refiners’ use of biofuels produced from non-food cellulosic feedstock such as switchgrass, corn stover or wood chips.  That provision is valued at $403m over ten years.


On top of that demand incentive, the bill provides $120m for extension of the existing federal biofuels research and development (R&D) programme, which BIO said will help make cellulosic ethanol production cost-effective and commercial.


At present, all US commercial ethanol production is based on corn, and corn ethanol has recently come under fire for contributing to rising prices for corn, other grains, derivative foods and livestock feed.


The farm bill also would provide loan guarantees for construction of cellulosic biorefineries and subsidise farmers who grow cellulosic feedstock crops instead of more profitable corn and other grains.


“The farm bill energy title will accelerate the commercialisation of cellulosic biofuels technologies and will help ensure abundant fuel and food resources are produced by the nation’s farmers and fuel producers,” said BIO vice president Brent Erickson.


BIO spokesman Paul Winters said that while the organisation hopes that Bush will have a change of heart and approve the bill, they are expecting a veto soon.  “We hope that Congress will then override the president’s veto,” Winters said.


The bill was approved by a vote of 81-15 in the Senate, where only 67 votes would be needed to pass the measure over the president’s objection. It passed with a vote of 318-106 in the House, where only 290 votes are needed to override a presidential veto.


The bill is widely popular in key US agricultural states that are important to both Republican and Democrat members of Congress that are seeking re-election in the US national elections in November.


Bush has said he will veto the measure because it is too expensive and because Congress failed to reduce a broad range of crop subsidies that Bush says are no longer needed.


($1 = €0.64)


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By: Joe Kamalick
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