( dpa ) - Brazilian Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes Wednesday defended bio-fuels against charges their increasing use is cutting into food supplies, saying Brazil was not in danger of that happening.
Amid growing concerns about soaring food prices, highlighted most recently by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund at spring meetings in Washington, Stephanes stressed that "intelligent policies for the production of food and bio-fuels are perfectly compatible in Brazil."
World Bank President Robert Zoellick said last week that climbing food prices would set back efforts to reduce poverty by about seven years.
In the opening address of the 30th Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Stephanes' comments were interpreted as the first strike in the Brazilian government's attempt to defend the use of bio-fuels as an alternative to oil and its derivatives.
" Brazil is the country where the production of a food surplus is growing most. We are the largest exporters of meat, coffee, sugar, juices, and the second-largest (producer) of grain crops," the minister noted.
On Monday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Jean Ziegler expressed great worry about the crisis triggered by the spiralling increase in the price of basic foodstuffs like rice and wheat, warning that it is only the start of "a very long period of rioting, conflicts (and) waves of uncontrollable regional instability marked by the despair of the most vulnerable populations."
Both Egypt and more recently Haiti have experienced violent riots over rising food prices, and the Haitian parliament over the weekend even dismissed the government over the issue.
Ziegler blamed the crisis on "the indifference of the rulers of the world," and singled out the US support of bio-fuels for particularly harsh criticism.
Along with the United States, Brazil produces over 70 per cent of the world's ethanol, although the United States gets its variant from corn and Brazil uses more energy-efficient sugar cane. Last year the two countries signed an agreement to promote the production and use of biofuels around the world.
Last week, Brazilian authorities said that the consumption of ethanol in February was greater than that of petrol in Brazil, for the first time in two decades.