The American Soybean Association (ASA) met with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and members of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee recently to discuss rising food prices and what can be done to increase crop production around the world.

ASA defended the use of soybean oil for biodiesel production, and outlined the critical importance of crop biotechnology in meeting the world’s growing demand for food, feed and fuel.

"The primary reasons for the recent rise in food prices are the sharp increase in energy costs, growing demand for higher quality diets in developing countries, and production shortfalls in several countries," said ASA President John Hoffman, a soybean producer from Waterloo, Iowa. "While estimates of the role of biofuels in higher food prices vary from very small to moderate, there is agreement these other factors have played a much larger role. Soy-based biodiesel’s share of this already-low number is extremely small."

Biodiesel production uses only the oil component of the soybean, so increased domestic processing of soybeans to get the soybean oil actually increases the supply of protein-rich soybean meal available to the animal feed industry, as well as the food industry. Since a soybean is about 20 percent oil and 80 percent protein, the benefits of increased soybean meal supplies on the domestic market are significant.

Hoffman also urged Congress to appropriate Federal funding for agricultural research, and promote global acceptance of crop biotechnology. "One of the key solutions to curtail rising food prices, in the U.S. and around the world, is to accelerate production of crops enhanced through biotechnology," Hoffman said. "Biotechnology and other modern crop breeding methods offer the potential to dramatically increase yields over coming decades while reducing the amount of resources required to grow these crops."

Funding for research on biotech crops is almost exclusively done by the private sector. The Senate version of the supplemental appropriations bill for FY-2008 provides $900 million for science research at various agencies, but no funding for agricultural research. "In order to accelerate the development and commercialization of biotech-enhanced crops, Congress should make a priority of targeting public funding for research that can raise food production," Hoffman said. "Yield increases, facilitated by biotechnology and other modern plant breeding methods, will provide U.S. soybean farmers with the seedstock we need to meet the world’s growing demands for food, feed and fuel."

Another priority for reducing global food prices is to help developing countries adopt commercial production of biotech crops. "Much of the focus of the recent World Food Security Conference was on significantly increasing food aid and helping subsistence farmers in the poorest countries survive," Hoffman stated. "Biotechnology can help produce crops resistant to drought, salinity, and other conditions that negatively affect yields in developing countries."

One of the obstacles facing these countries is the refusal of the European Union to accept food imports with biotech traits from developing countries. "It is time for members of Congress to press their counterparts in the European Parliament to accept the importance of biotechnology in helping to address the world food crisis by greatly improving the timeliness of the EU approval system, and by allowing for the low-level presence of genetic events that have been fully approved by an exporting country, but that haven’t yet received clearance in the EU’s slow approval system," Hoffman said.