Retailers Say New Biofuel Levels Will Drive Up Food Prices

"American farmers are producing more and more soybeans but it’s not enough to keep up with demand from biofuel refiners."

NRF Senior Vice President David French

WASHINGTON – The National Retail Federation today said biodiesel levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency for this year are too high and will drive up inflation for already high food prices, especially processed foods that rely on food oils from crops like soybeans.

“For more than a year, we’ve alerted the EPA and the administration about the shortage of food oils, which is causing significant disruptions throughout the supply chain and raising food costs for consumers,” said David French, NRF’s senior vice president for government relations and executive director of NRF’s National Council of Chain Restaurants division. “Food manufacturers simply can’t get their hands on enough of these oils to make everyday foods from bread and buns to condiments and dressings, and the problem is even worse for small and medium-size manufacturers.”

The EPA on Friday set the Renewable Fuel Standard program’s biodiesel blending mandate for 2022 at 5.63 billion gallons, a 22 percent increase over 2020. The increase came even though NRF asked the EPA in February to keep the biodiesel mandate at 2020’s 4.63 billion gallons temporarily to allow supplies of the oils to catch up with demand. NRF cited the Clean Air Act, which requires the EPA to consider commodity and food prices when setting RFS levels.

The move comes amid a global shortage of edible oils that has been driven by their increased use as biodiesel fuel and, more recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world’s largest producer of sunflower oil. Governments around the world have recently enacted biofuel mandates similar to the U.S. RFS program, requiring ever-higher volumes of corn ethanol and soy biodiesel and requiring crops to be diverted from food production. The situation with soybeans has become particularly acute during the last two years, with supplies of soybean oil for food use crowded out by government-imposed demand for use as biodiesel. Some U.S. states have enacted their own biofuel mandates on top of the federal requirement, leading to fierce competition between biodiesel refineries and food manufacturers that rely on a steady supply of soybean, canola, sunflower and other edible food oils.

“American farmers are producing more and more soybeans but it’s not enough to keep up with demand from biofuel refiners,” French said. “We asked the administration for a temporary reprieve until enough supply can be brought into the system that food manufacturers aren’t totally crowded out by refiners. It’s not just a price issue. Over the next two years or so, there simply isn’t enough food oil for everyone, and unless the biodiesel mandate is temporarily relaxed, food manufacturers and American consumers will take a backseat to fuel refiners.”

About NRF
The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, passionately advocates for the people, brands, policies and ideas that help retail thrive. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., NRF empowers the industry that powers the economy. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributing $3.9 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four U.S. jobs – 52 million working Americans. For over a century, NRF has been a voice for every retailer and every retail job, educating, inspiring and communicating the powerful impact retail has on local communities and global economies.