[enviro-vlc] World needs to rethink biofuels - U.N. food agency
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Wed Oct 8 06:51:40 EST 2008
World needs to rethink biofuels - U.N. food agency
07 Oct 2008 09:00:35 GMT
By Robin Pomeroy and Svetlana Kovalyova
ROME/MILAN, Oct 7 (Reuters) - The Western world needs to rethink its rush to
biofuels, which has done more harm pushing up food prices than it has good by
reducing greenhouse gases, a United Nations report said on Tuesday.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said policies encouraging
biofuel production and use in Europe and the United States was likely to
maintain pressure on food prices but have little impact on weaning car users
away from oil.
"The report finds that while biofuels will offset only a modest share of fossil
energy use over the next decade they will have much bigger impacts on
agriculture and food security," it said in its annual State of Food and
Growing demand for biofuels will boost prices of agricultural commodities in the
next 10 years, the report said.
For instance, if demand for biofuel agricultural feedstock rose 30 percent by
2010 from 2007, it would drive sugar prices up by 26 percent, maize prices by 11
percent and vegetable oil prices by 6 percent, FAO said.
With global stocks low and crops strongly dependent on weather, food prices
would remain volatile, it said.
Anti-hunger campaigners have blamed biofuels, which convert crops such as maize,
sugar, oil seeds and palm oil into liquid fuel for use in cars, for pushing up
global food prices, contributing to soaring food bills in the last two years.
The global food import bill is expected to jump 26 percent to $1,035 billion in
2008, powered by price rises in rice, wheat and vegetable oils, FAO said.
Looking ahead to 2010, FAO forecast a 7 percent rise in the world output of main
agricultural crops -- wheat, rice, coarse grains, rapeseed, soybean, sunflower
seed, palm oil and sugar -- compared to 2007.
The food versus fuel debate was stoked last year when then U.N. envoy on the
right to food, Jean Ziegler, said using arable land to make fuel was a "crime
The FAO report uses far less dramatic language and does not quantify biofuels'
contribution to commodity price spikes which were also due to poor harvests and
demand for a richer diet in places like China and India.
But it does say the rise in biofuels has put more people at risk of hunger and
requiring food aid and other assistance.
It also pours doubt on the claim that biofuels reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Crops soak up CO2 -- the main greenhouse gas blamed for climate change -- when
they grow, but fuel used in their cultivation and processing reduces that
efficiency and if trees are cleared to plant them, any gains can be lost.
"In many cases, increased emissions from land-use change are likely to offset or
even exceed the greenhouse gas savings obtained by replacing fossil fuels with
biofuels, and impacts on water, soil and biodiversity are also a concern," FAO said.
With the exception of sugar cane ethanol production in Brazil, biofuel
production only thrives when subsidised.
"There is an urgent need to review current policies supporting, subsidising and
mandating biofuel production and use," the report said, recommending more
funding be directed to "second generation" biofuels which will come from
non-food plant matter such as straw or algae.
Transportation accounts for 29 percent of the world's total energy consumption
and only 0.9 percent of that comes from biofuels, a proportion that the
International Energy Agency says could rise to 2.3 percent by 2015 and 3.2
percent by 2030.
Biofuels' rise could provide an opportunity for farmers in developing countries
to develop the new cash crops, the report said, but that would only happen if
subsidy regimes were changed to favour poorer countries rather than richer ones.
(Editing by Christopher Johnson)
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