Don't Buy What the Grocers are Trying to Feed You

By Joe Jobe | July 14, 2008
The recent attacks from the Grocery Manufacturers Association blaming biofuels for rising food costs are deceptive and just plain wrong. The GMA's attacks are not based on sound science, sound economics or common sense. Rather, they are based on the GMA's desire to find an easy target for which to defend its profits.

The NBB is committed to fighting the political and corporate interests that are more concerned with protecting their own profits over the health, security and pocketbooks of American families.

I recently testified in a closed meeting of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, along with other renewable energy groups and Cal Dooley, president and chief executive officer of the GMA. One of the points I made that day was that crude oil prices have risen by 100 percent in the past 12 months. In 1974 after the Arab oil embargo, there were significant food price increases too, but at the time biofuels weren't around to blame for those increases. Energy prices are more than 30 percent higher now than they were in 1974, after being adjusted for inflation, but grain prices now are more than 100 percent less than they were in 1974 after being adjusted.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Grassley has spoken out forcefully about the driving force behind the uptick in food prices, saying, "The biggest culprit behind the rising food cost is $135 (per) barrel oil." Biofuels are currently contributing more than 8 billion gallons of fuel to the nation's fuel supply, without which fuel prices, and consequently food prices, would be even higher than they are today, according to a Merrill Lynch strategist.

Since Grassley exposed the GMA's documented public relations smear campaign against biofuels, many others have joined him in his sharp criticism of GMA's efforts, including Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., John Thune, R-S.D., Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Kit Bond, R-Mo., and Ken Salazar, D-Colo. The senators recognize the critical role of biofuels to reducing our country's dependence on foreign oil and have expressed strong support for continued federal programs that encourage biofuel production and use.

In comments made recently to the National Biodiesel Board at our board meeting in Washington, D.C., Grassley strongly rebuked the GMA. He told NBB members that America's family farmers are producing more food and fuel than ever before and stressed the importance of keeping our energy dollars here at home.

As a sustainable fuel that can be produced from non-food crops and waste sources such as used restaurant oils, biodiesel is an important part of America's energy solutions. Less than 5 percent of the world's soybeans are used for U.S. biodiesel production. Of that, more than 80 percent of each soybean is still used for animal feed or food. Biodiesel's effect on the food supply is minimal, and to claim otherwise is nothing short of intellectually dishonest. To allege, as some with the GMA have that U.S.-produced biofuels are contributing to starving people is reckless and outrageous.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has calculated that of the land that could be used for agriculture today, only 3.7 billion acres of 10.4 billion acres are used. Of that, only 1 percent of that area is used for biofuels, which includes ethanol.

Further, the U.S. biodiesel industry makes huge investments in developing new oilseed crops as well as inedible products and waste sources. Non-edible raw materials such as algae, seashore mallow, mustard, camelina and jatropha all hold great promise for the future. Biodiesel is also stimulating significant investment in plant science research. For example, as much as a 10 percent increase in yields from existing soybean acres is expected soon.

Despite the long-term sustainability of biodiesel and little connection to food prices, GMA persists in its smear and distortion campaign. As Grassley said in reference to the GMA campaign and other efforts to discredit biofuels tax incentives, "lifting the biofuels incentives won't ease food prices. By using less biofuel, we will in fact lift food prices. Who are they trying to kid?"

The NBB won't be able to answer the GMA attacks dollar for dollar, but we are committed to ensuring that legislators and the American public know the truth about the benefits of biofuels. Because the GMA is willing to spend millions to protect their profits, the NBB will have to work extra hard to undo every mistruth they spread about our industry.
In the end, we are confident that Americans won't be buying what the GMA is selling for one simple reason: its wrong.
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