US food industry groups have attacked the law change that allows fuel containing 15% ethanol to be used in cars, claiming the new regulation will force up food prices.

Organisations including The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Meat Institute have filed a lawsuit to try to overturn last month’s decision to allow the fuel – known as E15 – to be used in cars built in 2007 or later.

In its lawsuit, the self-styled industry “coalition” claims the US Environmental Protection Agency over-stepped its legal authority with the regulation.

The suit, filed in Washington, says that under the US Clean Air Act the EPA may only grant a waiver for a new fuel additive if it “will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission control device or system”.

“In approving E15, which is compatible only with certain, later-model automobile and other types of engines, the EPA has clearly exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act,” the coalition stated.

“The EPA has unlawfully interpreted the statute to achieve a particular outcome. The agency has a legal obligation to adhere to the letter and spirit of the Clean Air Act and, in this case, has failed to do so. We are confident that the court will agree and require the EPA to reverse course.”

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Aside from concerns over possible engine failure, food groups pointed to the impact the regulation will have on food prices.

American Meat Institute president and CEO Patrick Boyle said corn prices had already increased since the US Department of Agriculture had warned that this year’s harvest would fall below the level of the 2009 crop.

Boyle said the E15 regulation would “put pressure on the meat and poultry supply, which will lead to higher food prices for consumers”.  

“For those consumers worried about climbing food prices, this decision will increase the amount of corn being diverted to our gas tanks and away from meat and poultry production,” Boyle added. “It’s unfortunate that the EPA acted hastily and approved the use of E15, and now the American consumer will pay for it at the grocery store.”

Officials at the EPA could not be reached for immediate comment.