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A group of major environmental, retail, consumer, and food industry organizations teamed with economists yesterday to request that Congress rethink current U.S. biofuels policy, which they say has driven up corn prices and negatively affected consumer prices, land use, and prospects for future price inflation.
"There is real and legitimate concern, not a secretive conspiracy, behind the need to revisit food-to-fuel policies," said Michelle Reinke, director of legislative affairs for the National Restaurant Association. "Ethanol policies are driving up costs for corn and other basic foods, forcing America's restaurants to make tough decisions about prices and profits."
Besides the National Restaurant Association, represented organizations included Earth Policy Institute, National Retail Federation, Environmental Working Group, National Chicken Council, National Council of Chain Restaurants, and the National Turkey Federation. The groups participated in a call to reporters convened before a press conference held by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa on the ethanol issue.
Ken Cook, co-founder and president of the Environmental Working Group, denied that the group saw ethanol as the sole culprit for rising food prices.
"I don't know of any organization that believes ethanol is the sole cause of rising food prices, but it is very clearly a leading cause and the one cause that we can control," said Cook. "To suggest otherwise is a straw-man argument being put forth by defenders of food-to-fuel policy. This is a serious issue and it should be taken seriously."
Skyrocketing corn prices have caused major headaches for the poultry industry, resulting in sharp rises in feed and raising costs, and ultimately higher consumer prices, according to the National Turkey Federation and the National Chicken Counsel.
"It is clear that these policies are having an impact on U.S. food prices," noted Erik Autor, v.p and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation. "This hurts American families who have to put food on the table, and food retailers, particularly small businesses that must survive on very small profit margins."
Additionally, representatives from the Earth Policy Institute and FarmEcon, LLC, spoke about the detrimental effect of the policy on the environment and agriculture.
In related news, the American Bakers Association issued a recommendation that Congress adopt its Action Plan, which was originally released during the March 12 band of Bakers March on Washington.
"High food and commodity prices have been caused in part by many factors, including increased worldwide demand, a weakened dollar, and adverse weather events such as last year's drought in Australia," said ABA president and c.e.o. Robb MacKie, "but the ethanol program, which continues to incentivize the use of vital cropland for fuel production over food production, along with other government programs that pay farmers not to farm their land, [has] also led to the current food crisis."
The Action Plan consists of such components as balancing food and energy needs; increasing flexibility for the Conservation Reserve Program, which idles farmland; and ensuring a safe and adequate food supply.