Corn Growers Attack Hormel over Hunger Survey

US - The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) has hit out at a recent survey on public attitudes toward hunger as just another "PR opportunity" created to slam corn-based ethanol at a time when the farming and food industries need to work together to lower food prices for Americans.
calendar icon 5 November 2008
clock icon 7 minute read

The survey by pig meat processing giant Hormel - The 2008 Hormel Hunger Survey - shows that more than 50 per cent of consumers are concerned about subsidies being given to grow corn for ethanol and they do not believe it is a good use of taxpayers' money.

The Hormel survey also shows that nearly six out of 10 Americans say they have had to cut back on the quantity or quality of food they buy because of increasing prices.

Most Americans (67 per cent) say that food prices have increased a lot since last year, and six out of 10 Americans (61 per cent) say that corn-based ethanol is at least partly responsible for higher food prices.

However, in a letter to Hormel Foods Chairman, President and CEO Jeffrey Ettinger, National Corn Growers Association President Bob Dickey and CEO Rick Tolman said: "We recognize that some industries feel threatened when farmers find new markets for their corn, even though there will continue to be enough corn for all markets in an era of higher yields and production.

"But we cannot countenance efforts to use false or outdated information to sway the American public against American agriculture, and we will speak out loud in defense of the truth."

In its survey on hunger, Hormel Foods specifically asked those being surveyed how they felt about corn ethanol's impact on food prices, using leading questions even though the connection between ethanol demand and food’s retail prices is minimal or nonexistent, Mr Dickey and Mr Tolman said.

"The fact that corn prices, for example, are now significantly lower while ethanol demand remains high shows there is not much of a connection between the two."

The letter added that Mr Ettinger from Hormel sits on the board of two associations that have been extremely critical of ethanol: the American Meat Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

The NCGA leaders noted GMA had not kept its promise of last summer that Americans would see “immediately” lower food prices. Instead, GMA is still defending higher prices for food – even though corn prices and gasoline are nearly half the cost they were last summer.

"When the Environmental Protection Agency rejected a bid to cut the renewable fuels standard in August, we said it was time for US agriculture and food interests to collaborate on solutions for the real causes of high prices and hunger here and abroad,” Dickey and Tolman wrote. “That is even more true in today’s time of economic uncertainty."

Mr Dickey and Mr Tolman said that, with corn prices down, NCGA’s members want to know when GMA is going to keep its end of the agreement and cut food prices to help economically strapped Americans.

In the survey, which is Hormel Foods’ third annual study on Americans’ experiences with and views on hunger, two-thirds of Americans say they are losing economic ground as inflation outstrips any increase in income. In addition, almost half (47 per cent) of Americans are having more trouble paying their bills this year than last year, and more than four out of five Americans (84 per cent) are concerned about rising food prices. Four out of 10 are very concerned.

"Hunger in the United States is a serious issue. We hope this research will elevate the issue and prompt discussions about how we can all work together to help feed America’s families," said Mr Ettinger.

"It is estimated that more than 100 million people in the world have been forced into poverty and hunger because of the dramatic increase in food prices," said Benjamin Senauer, a professor of applied economics at the University of Minnesota, author and researcher.

"Millions of American families' food budgets have been stretched to the limit and beyond. Food stamp enrollment is up and food banks are seeing unprecedented demand."

To help them cope with rising food costs, a majority of Americans have been forced to make adjustments in their food-buying habits. One in five (19 per cent) say they have been forced to choose between buying food or gas.

More than half of the 800 adults interviewed are taking multiple steps to reduce food costs, such as using coupons, buying more generic or store brands, eating at home more often, buying less expensive cuts of meat and buying more of less expensive staples such as rice and potatoes.

Two-thirds (67 per cent) also say the US government should do more to solve the hunger problem in the United States by making it a higher priority and providing more funding.

Also in the survey, Americans said that ethanol is at least partly responsible for the higher food prices. Fifty-seven percent agreed with a statement that using corn to produce ethanol makes the hunger problem worse, and slightly more (58 percent) agreed we should reconsider the role of ethanol as fuel because of the impact on food prices. More than half (57 percent) believe using corn to make ethanol is a good idea, but more than half (56 percent) also say providing subsidies for producing corn to make ethanol is a bad use of tax dollars.

"Even as our country strives for energy independence, we hope our policy makers remember that our families come first," Mr Ettinger said.

"The more food we devote to making fuel, the more difficult it is going to be to feed people. Our first priority should be putting quality, affordable food on the table."

Survey findings also outlined several trends among consumers:

  • Hunger is a reality for many Americans, and nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of the general public believes it is getting worse. According to the survey, six per cent of Americans said they or someone in their immediate family has gone to bed hungry in the past month because they could not afford enough food.
  • During the last year, rising food prices have caused nearly all Americans to change their shopping and eating habits. More than half (58 per cent) of Americans have cut back on either the types of food they buy or the amount of food they buy because of higher food prices. And a majority of consumers have bought more store or generic brands, tried to only buy items on sale, decreased the number of meals they bought away from home, and bought in bulk when it was less expensive.
  • One in seven Americans (14 per cent) said that they or someone in their immediate family have received food from a food bank, shelter or other charitable organization in the past year because of lack of money for food. Among those who have not received food donations in the past year, more than one in five (21 per cent) Americans say it is very or somewhat likely that rising costs or some other change in circumstance may force them to ask for food from a charitable organisation in the future.
  • The quantity and quality of food available through charitable organizations has also been affected by rising food prices. Among those who have received food donations, more than half (59 per cent) said the amount or the quality or variety of food they received was reduced because of high food prices. While 68 percent of Americans donated food products to charitable organizations in the past year, 22 per cent of them donated less than last year, citing higher food prices and less disposable income.
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