No food for fuel

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 20:17

Last week saw the marking of World Food Day, a day when people around the world raise awareness around a scandalous fact – that 1 in 8 people on the planet goes to bed hungry every night.

Hunger has more than one cause. But one of these is that we have a policy in Europe that promotes pumping food into cars instead of using it to feed people.

As the world’s population grows, demand for food is increasing, putting pressure on limited resources to produce it

Yet at the same time, the EU’s renewable energy policy is encouraging the use of food as fuel.

This year, EU ambassadors – whether or not they were aware of it – marked World Food Day by discussing how to reform this policy. What’s not clear is whether they listened to the evidence and actually plan to change this failed policy.

Last summer, during the Irish EU Presidency, we were encouraged to hear Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte say that NGOs had made a strong case about the negative impacts of biofuels on Africa and that these concerns should be taken into account in the EU debate on biofuels reform. But since then, little has changed.

EU countries haven’t publicly expressed support for the European Commission’s proposal to cap food used in fuel at 5%.

Faced with a growing mountain of evidence, when are EU ministers going to fix this failed policy?

Biofuels aren't a green solution

Mistakes are made in government policy – these things happen. But it’s inexcusable to fail to act on the facts.

Evidence of the contribution of biofuel policies to rising and increasingly volatile world food prices led ten international bodies – including the IMF, the World Bank, the FAO and UNCTAD – to recommend in 2011 that G20 governments abolish biofuel mandates and subsidies globally. So far the EU has failed to act on these calls.

In recent months, the debate has continued to rage about the impact of biofuels on food prices, food availability and hunger.

Recently, the UN’s Committee on World Food Security stated that although a large range of factors have been attributed to rising food prices, biofuels is an important factor. This is the issue.

Of course other factors affect hunger, but not all of those factors are about targets set by ministers that can be easily changed

By keeping its biofuels targets in place and continuing to subsidise the food based biofuels industry, Europe is directly contributing to food price volatility, and driving land grabs in some of the world’s poorest communities.

The amount of land required to fill a family car with grain biofuel would provide enough food to feed a child for 200 days. So the question is, which would EU ministers rather do?