A question of coherenceJune 13th, 2011 | by Ben Grossman-Cohen
This afternoon Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will speak at the National Press Club in Washington on global food security ahead of the G-20 Agricultural Ministerial in Paris later this month. A quick glance at the USDA media advisory indicates that those looking for “coherence” in US policies on food security may be disappointed:
“Vilsack will discuss how the continued innovation and creativeness of scientists, farmers and policymakers is essential to confront the combined challenges of feeding a growing global population, mitigating the effects of climate change, and meeting increasing energy demands at home and abroad. The Secretary will also address the importance of maintaining open, transparent markets for trading food and agricultural goods, as well as address misconceptions about the production of U.S. biofuels.”
That last line describes in short order the challenges we face. On one hand the US has been a global leader in dealing with the emerging food crisis, championing investment in small holder farmers through Feed the Future and pledges made in 2009 at L’Aquila, beginning to address the challenges farmers face due to climate change, taking important initial steps to rein in excessive commodity speculation through the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, and pushing for increased transparency in food stocks at the G-20 that will help cut back on price volatility.
But at the same time US policies are undermining the very initiatives we are investing in. Take the suite of ethanol incentives that Secretary Vilsack seems poised to defend again this afternoon. This $6 billion dollars in taxpayer funded giveaways drive 40% of the US corn crop- 15% of global corn production- into ethanol, helping push food prices to record heights. The World Bank estimates that high food prices have sent 44 million people into poverty in recent months.
As Secretary Vilsack speaks this afternoon, I hope he will push aside the failed ideas of the past and embrace the burgeoning consensus that we need to change how business is done here in Washington. Already there is strong bipartisan momentum for reform to our biofuels incentives that could take some of the pressure off of prices. Votes are scheduled in the Senate this week to end the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, and to prohibit certain funding for ethanol pumps and storage tanks.
Secretary Vilsack’s speech will call for innovation and creativeness in the face of immense challenges. There would be no better sign of innovation than the Secretary’s full-throated support for these reforms.