UN launches biofuels report

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

fao1Responding to a report launched on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on the impacts of biofuels on food security, Friends of the Earth's Biofuels Campaigner Kenneth Richter said: “This is a stark reminder that Europe's biofuel targets are driving up food prices and increasing hunger among the world's poorest people.

“The biofuels industry is lobbying hard against new proposals before the European Parliament to limit the use of food crops for biofuels.

"MEPs must not bow to industry pressure - they must end the use of food for fuel.”

The report, written by the UN's High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security, confirms that the production of biofuel from crops has a significant and direct impact on food prices and food availability:

  • "When crops are used for biofuels, the first direct impact is to reduce food and feed availability. This induces an increase in prices and a reduction of food demand by the poor."

  • "Everything else being equal, the introduction of a rigid biofuel demand does affect food commodity prices. This observation holds in each context, even in the context of prices going down for other reasons than biofuels."

  • "In the last few years (since 2004) of short-term commodity food price increase, biofuels did play an important role."

  • "All crops compete for the same land or water, labor, capital, inputs and investment and there are no current magic non-food crops that can ensure more harmonious biofuel production on marginal lands. Therefore, non-food/feedcrops should be assessed with the same rigor as food/feedcrops for their direct and indirect food security impacts."

Biofuels, of whatever kind, are not the answer. What is required is a rethinking of the way we do things and the way we travel. In addition to that studies have shown that bio-diesel, for instance, has a higher output of particulate matter than has diesel derived from fossil oil. Those minute particles released into the atmosphere are the causal agents of asthma and other respiratory problems.

The problem is, however, that the powers-that-be wish to maintain the status quo of motoring for all as event he mere suggestion of it in public would put the cat among the pigeons, proverbial speaking, and lose them votes.

There is a possibility of one option for bio-diesel, though it again would mean that most people would have to give up the use of their private motorcars, and that is the use of gasoline made from hemp, as was intended for the first cars made by Henry Ford. He also built an entire car body from hemp fiber plastic.

Hemp, though, while an almost miracle crop, could never sustain the current level of motoring around the world and the only way we can progress and keep the Planet safe and healthy is by returning to other modes of personal transportation, which does not include the car.

For governments to even suggest this at this present moment in time, however, would be political suicide as the people have gotten so used to personal motoring that they will vote for anyone – regardless – who will promise them the continuation of this. And with regardless I mean here also that they are quite prepared to let the Planet go to hell in a hand basket, so to speak, for their short-term motoring freedom.

It has already been established that the growing of crops for biofuels is causing hunger in many areas and food shortages in general, as well as shortages on other levels, such as water but the people in the developed world do not care enough. Their only interest is the continuation of the status quo as regards to motoring and other ways of life.

Vast stretches of tropical rainforests are being destroyed wholesale for the growing of oil palms for palm oil for the creation of biofuels and also palm oil for use in cosmetics and other products. And other areas are being destroyed too for the growing of other crops for biofuel production; areas that could, even though claimed to be “marginal” lands, for the growing of foods.

When it comes to growing of certain foods too we have a problem such as when in Kenya “French” beans are being grown for consumption in the UK and other parts of the EU. The growing of those, and other crops, which are not part of the diet of the local population, is water intensive and occupies land that those countries, where hunger is a daily problem for many, could much better use in order to grow food for their people.

I have no problem with taking surplus crops from far away places if they are indeed surplus but am dead against cash crop produce grown for the markets in the developed world which being foods that the local people do not eat.

It is high time that the world rethought its priorities and fuel and cash crops are not priorities.

When it comes to fuel for motor vehicles it is time that we rethought personal motoring and while it has given people the freedom to live far away from their jobs and commute this has done no one any real favors. On the contrary.

© 2013

The UN's report 'Biofuels and food security' can be found here.