Saturday, 21 June 2008

Biofuels Contribute To Rise Global Food Rises

A review of the UK’s biofuels strategy has shown that the increased uptake of biofuels has contributed significantly to the rise in food prices around the world and has left more than 100 million people short of food. The report by a panel of government experts was chaired by Professor Ed Gallagher, the head of the Renewable Fuels Agency and is due to be published on Friday 27th June. The review was set-up by Ruth Kelly, the UK’s Transport Secretary in February 2008 out of concern about the rising cost of food products.

The report’s findings are not really a surprise, well not to anyone with common sense at least. What do politicians expect to happen when vast amounts of land normally used to grow food crops is diverted to growing crops for biofuels manufacture? In the USA, a third of all maize is now used for biofuels production and in the EU half of all vegetable oils are used for biofuels. This pattern is repeated in many other countries as poor farmers and large corporations alike work out that the profit to be made from crops for biofuels is far higher than for food crops. This has led to shortages and hence higher prices. While most of us in the West can afford to pay the higher prices, for people living in poverty already, this rise in prices is causing further unnecessary hardship.

Despite this obvious consequences of the rush to replace petroleum with biofuels, the UK government has already put in place a target of all petrol and diesel to contain 2.5% biofuels and is raising this to 5% by 2010. The EU is proposing a figure if 10% by 2010. The USA is also determined to expand the use of biofuels for oil security rather than climate change reasons and is pushing hard to maximise the domestic use of biofuels. Unless there is more research into the effects of increased biofuels uptake and a regulatory body to ensure growers, producers and suppliers of biofuels work in an ethical and sustainable way, we are going to do far more harm to our planet and our people. Already the growing food crisis is affecting many hundreds of millions of people, the social and environmental damage may not be obvious to us in the West, but to many displaced farmers and peasants the suffering has already began.

[via The Guardian]