Appetite for biofuels taking food directly from the poor
OPINION:The problem is that land and crops are diverted to keep our engines running
THEY LOOK green. And with an eco-friendly name, they sound it too.
But biofuels are driving up food prices and contributing to climate change on an unprecedented scale.
So why is the European Union continuing to subsidise an industry that is hurting the world’s poorest, and costing taxpayers too? Blended with fossil fuels to run in conventional cars, corn, wheat, sugar cane and beet can be turned into ethanol and used as a substitute for petrol.
Oilseeds such as rapeseed, soy or palm oil can also be used, and converted to biodiesel.
At present, they account for about 4.5 per cent of the fuel that goes into Irish cars and are part of the Government’s plan to obtain 20 per cent of all energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The EU is subsidising the industry to the tune of about €3.7 billion annually. It wants to increase the share of biofuels used in transport to 10 per cent by 2020. The problem is that when land and crops are diverted to keeping our engines running, it is taking food directly from people’s mouths.
This has a particularly severe impact on poor people who are already struggling to afford the food they need to survive.
Research from the Philippines shows that land acquired for biofuels production in 2010 could instead be used to produce up to 2.4 million metric tonnes of rice, enough to make the Philippines self-sufficient in rice production.
And if the land used to produce biofuels for the EU in 2008 (when biofuels accounted for 3.5 per cent of transport fuel in the EU) had been used to produce wheat and maize instead, it could have fed 127 million people for the entire year.
At a time when food prices are rising sharply, increasing malnutrition rates among children in countries such as Yemen that depend heavily on imports, it is unacceptable that we are indirectly contributing to hunger in some of the world’s poorest countries.
The past five years have been marked by two record spikes in the price of food. And prices are rising again, with corn and soy hitting record highs in summer 2012. The evidence on the contribution of biofuel policies to recent global food price spikes is so compelling that, in 2011, 10 international organisations – including the IMF and the World Bank – made an unprecedented call for G20 governments to scrap biofuel mandates and subsidies. By 2020, EU those mandates alone could push up some food prices by as much as 36 per cent.