US ethanol policy under siege in food-for-fuel debate

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2008 (AFP) – Amid a surge in food prices blamed in part on US expansion of corn-based ethanol production, lawmakers, experts and industry officials are urging the government to rethink a new law mandating alternative fuels.

The United States is the world’s top producer of corn-based ethanol, which the administration of President George W. Bush sees as a way of reducing dependence on foreign oil and curb fossil-fuel emissions, the main source of man-made global warming.

Politicians are under mounting pressure to look again at the effects of a landmark energy law enacted in December that raised vehicle fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in three decades and offered broad support for ethanol production.

The public outcry over using food for fuel has spurred interest in so-called “second-generation” alternative fuels, such as cellulosic-based ethanol, but they are still in an early stage of development.

“The solution to the issue of corn-fed ethanol is cellulosic ethanol, which is a fancy word for saying we’re going to make ethanol out of switchgrasses, or wood chips,” Bush said last month.

This week the US Department of Agriculture argued ethanol production does not pit food and energy interes