US secretary concedes biofuels may spur food price rises

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Setting aside farmland to produce biofuels like ethanol may be partly to blame for driving up world food prices, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday.

“There has been apparently some effect, unintended consequence from the alternative fuels effort,” Rice told a meeting in Washington when asked for the US government’s view on skyrocketing food prices.

“Although we believe that while biofuels continue to be an extremely important piece of the alternative energy picture, obviously we want to make sure that it is not having an adverse affect,” she said.

“We think that it is not a large part of the problem, but it in fact may be a part of the problem, the ethanol debate,” Rice told a gathering of the Peace Corps.

She said other factors fueling high prices are problems of distributing food in conflict areas like Sudan as well as export caps imposed by countries like China which are trying to meet rising demand from more affluent citizens.

Biofuels are touted as a way to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, held responsible for global warming, but since they are grown on land that would otherwise be used for food production, they have been increasingly blamed for soaring food prices.

Outgoing Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi told a conference in Rome last week that agricultural prices were not only being driven by rising demand but also by increased cultivation of biofuels, “creating strong tensions in a number of countries.”

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