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Schafer optimistic biofuels issues won't hamper food aid

Speaking from a UN Food and Agriculture Organization summit on a global food crisis, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer told reporters Thursday that he believes the U.S. will be able to support the broad goals of the conference later today.

"All in all, I think we will come out with a declaration that will move us forward," he said.

Schafer wouldn't disclose details of the drafts that he has seen of a final declaration from the United Nations summit of 40 countries.

Critics, including FAO director Jacques Diouf, have accused the United States of being wasteful with food and putting emphasis on the development of biofuels at the expense of the world's poor.

Schafer stood by USDA analysis of the situation that shows corn-based ethanol to be a factor in rising food prices, but a small one. It accounts for three percent of an increase in global food prices of 43% this year, he said.

Whether or not nations at the conference reach a consensus on providing more food aid, Schafer said the U.S. has pledged to spend $5 billion on emergency food aid over the next two years, which he said is an increase over existing spending of about $1 billion a year.

Schafer said that he also found more willingness from other countries for looking at genetically modified crop technology as one way of increasing food production in the rest of the world. That's needed in order to increase yields, he said.

"Unless the rest of the world starts matching the United States' increases [in yield] people are going to go hungry," he said.

At the conference, U.S. ethanol policies drew criticism from political leaders from Brazil, who claim sugar cane ethanol to be more efficient and less subsidized than U.S. corn-based ethanol. But they also said that criticism of ethanol is driven by the world's coal and petroleum industries.

While the food versus fuel debate may not be resolved in Rome this week, Schafer said that there will be agreement about the need to do more to feed the poor in nations hurt by rising food prices.

"The humanitarian needs, the hungry people needs have to be dealt with right now," Schafer said.

Speaking from a UN Food and Agriculture Organization summit on a global food crisis, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer told reporters Thursday that he believes the U.S. will be able to support the broad goals of the conference later today.

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