World Bank downplays biofuel bombshell report

But did Bank president Robert Zoellick just say that the Bush administration's figures on food prices were not to be believed?

Published July 8, 2008 5:16PM (EDT)

The Wall Street Journal's indefatigable energy and environment blogger, Keith Johnson, provides some new details on the "confidential World Bank report" that claimed biofuels are responsible for a whopping 75 percent of the rise in global food prices.

Last week, the U.K. Guardian speculated that political pressure had squelched the report; the World Bank supposedly did not want to embarrass the Bush administration, which has repeatedly stated that its mandates for corn-based ethanol are only responsible for 3 percent of the rise in food prices.

But the author of the report, Donald Mitchell, tells the Journal otherwise.

Bob Davis of the WSJ spoke with Donald Mitchell, the author of the draft report -- which wasn't secret at all, but a working paper. And like all working papers, it doesn't reflect the official position of the World Bank.

The report was meant to contribute to a World Bank position paper on rising food prices, which was released at the Bank's spring meeting in mid-April.

The final April report didn't include his specific calculation. But, Mr. Mitchell says, "I never saw that as political." Instead, he says he believes the changes were made because of "editing."

Johnson also quotes a World Bank spokesperson quoting World Bank president Robert Zoellick.

"That's an internal study that we've been circulating to people to try to get different views from other aid agencies and different economic analyses. So, my own view is that that is probably at the far end. You see other people talk about ranges of 20 percent, 25 percent. There's some at the lower end that I think are less credible. So, on this one I think I'm going to rely on the experts to be able to sort it through."

Dismiss, if you like, this entire P.R. exercise by the Bank as spin, but if you read between the lines of that last quote, you can see Zoellick saying that the Bush administration's 3 percent figure is not "credible."

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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