June 2, 2008

Food fight in Rome?

The High-Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy begins tomorrow in Rome. It's hosted by the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization.

It is safe to say that some biofuel bashing will take place, and much will likely be pointed at ethanol. Corn ethanol, to be exact. FAO's pre-meeting documents cover U.S. biofuel and ethanol policy. In fact, parts of a "key policy document" reads much like the talking points the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) used in it's press call a couple of weeks ago. Mentioned specifically, among other things, is the ethanol blender tax credit.

Could it be that GMA and the Grocery Gang - and it's PR firm Glover Park - had some input? The Illinois Corn Growers think so anyway, as they state that Glover Park and GMA has visited numerous foreign embassies and food groups several weeks ago.

Since at least one UN official considers corn ethanol a "crime against humanity", it's safe to say some anti-ethanol sound bites will come from the invitation-only meeting this week.

On an interesting note, FAO reports that trade policies by some countries can exacerbate price instability on world markets. I imagine they are referring to some countries halting exports. Then after a line saying biofuels policies may need to re-examined, here's the conclusion:

“This is a unique moment in history: for the first time in 25 years, a fundamental incentive - high food commodity prices - is in place for stimulating the agricultural sector,” Jacques Diouf said. “Governments, supported by their international partners, must now undertake the necessary public investment and provide a favourable environment for private investments, while at the same time ensuring that the most vulnerable are protected from hunger.”

In other words, high prices will stimulate investment and production. Just like they are supposed to. In the mean time, we need to take care of the hungry, which the United States does like no other country in the world -- footing half (or more) of the world food aid bill.

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