Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Friday said the United States could not ignore global suffering from a food crisis and should slowly move away from maize-based fuel production that has shared the blame for surging food prices, dpa reported.
Obama said the United States should be "mindful" of the effect its own search for alternative fuel sources was having on the developing world, but he said it would take some time before non-food-derived fuels became widely available.
"Around the world you're starting to see food shortages that could end up leading to real hunger and food riots," Obama told reporters at a campaign stop in Indiana.
"That's something that we have an obligation to not ignore," he said.
More than 30 countries have been threatened with food riots and starvation in the face of high food costs. Aid agencies have called for more than 700 million dollars to meet increased demand.
The production of bio-fuels in industrial nations has been widely blamed for the sharp rises in the price of maize, wheat, soya and other food staples relied on for nutrition in developing countries. Some countries have called for a complete halt to subsidies for fuels made from food crops.
Obama said that maize-based ethanol - which is heavily subsidized in the US including in Obama's home state of Illinois - was a "transitional technology" that would soon make way for other alternatives.
"We're going to have to shift to cellulosic ethanol, using biomass that is not part of the food chain," he said. "And that's going to require some time."
The United States is the largest producer of ethanol along with Brazil, which converts the fuel from sugar cane in a process considered much more efficient than that in the US.
Other countries including Europe use edible oils to produce diesel fuel.
The World Bank this month said US ethanol ate up nearly all of the increased global maize production from 2004-07, when the crop's prices rose most sharply. Growing demand in the developing world has also put pressure on grain prices.