NRA asks lawmakers to factor food costs into energy discussions

WASHINGTON The National Restaurant Association has asked the leaders of the U.S. Senate to consider how a legislative push for stepped-up ethanol production could affect food costs.

The diversion of more corn to the production of the so-called biofuel is widely expected to raise further the price of many restaurant supplies, including chicken and other proteins from livestock that feed on the grain. The NRA letter suggested that incentives could lead farmers to grow corn where they'd otherwise cultivate soybeans, and thereby put a crimp in the industry's supply of trans-fat-free oils. The trade is in a midst of a shift to the non-hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are often made from soybeans. Many of the nation's largest chains have cited the limited availability of the new oils as a major difficulty in phasing out their use of partially hydrogenated oils, which contain artery-clogging trans fats.

Soybean oil is also being diverted to the production of biofuel, further diminishing its availability, the group noted.

The NRA's communication also pointed out the feasibility of recycling restaurant fryer oil into bio diesel fuel, another replacement for gasoline.

"The Association supports efforts to develop efficient renewable fuels," NRA interim president and chief executive Peter Kilgore said in the letter that was sent to Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "However, the renewable fuel mandate will likely be filled by food production inputs and we urge the implementation of safeguards against price distortions in the food supply." He did not specify what safeguards should be adopted.

The missive was sent as the Senate was preparing to craft a comprehensive energy bill. President Bush called in his State of the Union Address for a significant step-up in the production of ethanol and other biofuels.