Don't blame biofuels for the food crisis

Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 8:50 PM

Tim Searchinger's Feb. 11 Washington Forum commentary, "How biofuels add to the food crisis," rightly pointed out that biofuels production from grains and oilseeds has contributed to low stocks of major grains, thereby making the market unusually and dangerously susceptible to supply shocks. What he did not mention is that the prospect of oil priced over $100 a barrel, because of unrest in the Middle East, makes the production of biofuels viable even without government mandates and subsidies.

Vulnerable consumers could be protected through call options on grains and oilseeds that governments could purchase from domestic biofuels producers. These call options would divert agricultural feedstocks from biofuel production into the food and feed chains in times of acute need.

Such a program might also serve to lessen pressure on global prices in tight markets, in particular in countries that are significant producers and exporters of a particular commodity, as is the case for U.S. corn production.

Brian Wright, Berkeley, Calif.

The writer is a member of the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council.


Tim Searchinger's attempt to blame U.S. ethanol production for higher world food prices was unconvincing. The production of ethanol in the United States uses just 3 percent of the world's grain supply on a net basis and none of staples such as wheat and rice. In 2010, world supplies of grain were off from record volumes by less than 1 percent. Moreover, the demand created by U.S. ethanol production has been the catalyst for more productive farming practices.

U.S. ethanol production does have an impact on corn prices. Ethanol production was begun, in part, to provide farmers with greater market demand and to create incentive for increased productivity. It has worked. However, ethanol's impact on corn and food prices is widely overstated. Most studies of 2008 food price increases demonstrated far greater impact by high oil prices and hedge fund speculators than by ethanol.

Chicken Little scenarios propagated by Mr. Searchinger and others do nothing to address issues of food supply, world hunger or America's unsustainable reliance on imported oil.

Bob Dinneen, Washington

The writer is president of the Renewable Fuels Association.

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