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As grain prices rise, so does Germany's debate over biofuel

Two German cabinet members have squared off on whether biofuel production is contributing to higher food prices. Biodiesel and bioethanol provide about 6 percent of the overall fuel supply.

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Is biofuel responsible for rocketing food prices?

It is a global debate following droughts in the United States and India, and with the G20 countries expected to find solutions for yet another famine threatening the Sahel region in northern Africa. In Germany, where the price for grain is at a 25-year high, the issue has divided society and the government.

“We need to put corn on the plate, not in the tank,” said Dirk Niebel, German minister for international development and cooperation last week, before setting off on a tour of African countries. The minister called for a halt in the sales of gasoline mixed with ethanol, known in Germany as E10. He echoed a demand by Jose Graziano da Silva, director general of the World Food Organization (FAO), who asked the US, where the drought has pushed corn production to its lowest in six years, to temporarily suspend its biofuel production. Roughly 40 percent of corn grown in the US is turned into fuel.

But Mr. Niebel does not have the support of his cabinet colleagues. “There is no connection between the production of biofuel and food prices,” says Peter Altmaier, German environment minister. “Not in Germany, anyway.”

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