New FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.
New FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

The new director general of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has spoken out against the use of corn for ethanol production. Speaking to agricultural ministers in Berlin this week, Jose Graziano da Silva said, “FAO has been raising its voice against using food to produce bio energy.” That’s “especially” the case for corn in the U.S. and oilseeds in Europe, he said.

“We have been looking into the details of the price, and nowadays there is no doubt that the use of maize in the U.S. for biofuels affects the prices of maize all over the world,” Graziano da Silva said.

He did confirm that using corn for ethanol is raising maize prices worldwide, but he framed it with slightly negative terms. His concerns with the use of corn for ethanol center around land use and food security. He shared that the FAO found that only four countries Latin America could expand biofuel production without affecting food security: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Colombia.

Graziano da Silva, who is from Brazil, began serving as director general Jan 1. In his inaugural press conference, he said the total elimination of hunger and undernourishment from the world will be his top priority during his three and half year term.  

"Ending hunger requires the commitment of everyone: neither FAO nor any other agency or government will win this war alone", said Graziano da Silva, adding that he wanted to work "in the most transparent and democratic way" with member countries, United Nations agencies the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders.

Graziano da Silva's message has not been received well by the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance, which has challenged the new FAO director general. The alliance claims Graziano da Silva's critique of biofuels is simplistic and misinformed.

“Mr. Graziano da Silva has failed to recognize that the rising price of energy is the primary driver in the rising cost of all commodities including corn and sugar,” said GRFA spokesperson, Bliss Baker.

Many international organizations have back tracked on their criticism of biofuels based on research that has found biofuels to have played a very minor role in the escalation of food prices globally. In fact, David Hallam, the FAO’s own deputy director has said that “unexpected oil price spikes could further exacerbate an already precarious situation in food markets.”