On Monday, USDA officials met with reporters to discuss just how closely biofuels (specifically corn-based ethanol) are linked to the increasing price of food. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, who has vehemently defended biofuels before, had this to say:
One theory that has been widely discussed in recent weeks is that the nation’s growing demand for biofuels and the crops needed to produce them is the real culprit behind higher food prices, both at home and abroad. Yet the evidence that we have seen. . .does not support this.
It’s true that higher demand for corn for ethanol and soybeans for biodiesel has led to higher prices for those crops over the past couple of years. But we do not have a one on one relationship between higher prices for those commodities and what consumers are paying for foods at the retail level. There are many factors at work. . .
So just how much is ethanol contributing to global food prices? According to Schafer:
On the international level, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors estimates that only 3 percent of the more than 40 percent increase we have seen in world food prices this year is due to the increased demand on corn for ethanol.