World Bank biofuel report part of position paper

By Anna Austin | July 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted July 16, 2008 at 4:22 p.m. CST

A report allegedly leaked from the World Bank indicating that biofuels were responsible for 75 percent of the global food price increase was found to be only part of a position paper - an opinion piece based upon individual research - and does not reflect the official position of the World Bank.

The Guardian newspaper of London originally published the story July 4, stating that unnamed sources suggested the secret report was not released in order to prevent the U.S. government from embarrassment. The 17-page paper, which was meant to be part of an internal study released in April and was not secret at all, was written by World Bank Economist Donald Mitchell. It states that the World Bank's index of food prices increased 140 percent from January 2002 to February 2008, and that the increase "was caused by a confluence of factors but the most important was the large increase in biofuels production in the U.S. and EU"

The Wall Street Journal also wrote about the "leaked report," July 4. Four days later Wall Street Journal blogger Keith Johnson admitted to speaking with Mitchell only to find the report was not official; his specifications were actually left out of the World Bank's final version. The draft, dated April 8, states it is "not for citation or circulation," and "the views of this paper are those of the author and should not be attributed to the World Bank or its executive directors."

An enormous number of main stream press sources reported on the so-called "secret" discovered by the Guardian, but few have followed up on the story to counter the original story.

"The draft itself - which we saw - makes clear that the headline figure for biofuel's role in the food crisis was a little overstated in the original article," Johnson wrote.

In response to the study and the hysteria it caused, Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen said: "The findings of this report are so far removed from even the wildest claims made previously about biofuels and food prices that rational people will find them hard to believe." He added that a careful reading of the leaked World Bank paper will convey the bias of the author against biofuels.

"While the author underestimates the impact of higher energy prices and a weak dollar, he simply assigns all other factors to biofuels," Dinneen said. "Such a simplistic approach fails to accurately and honestly account for the myriad of factors driving food costs higher. Fortunately, this document is only a working copy. I encourage the author and the World Bank to revisit the issue without bias, taking into account the increasingly significant role biofuels are playing in reducing global oil demand."