Food or Fuel?

The UN and many countries officially share the view that bio-fuel is one option in fighting climate change. But encouraging production of bio-fuels on land that would have been used for other purposes makes no sense, as it increases the cost of food, harming the poorest of the poor, and contributes to the destruction of forests, thereby accelerating climate change.

When United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently visited Antarctica, he was impressed by the melting ice he saw there. Then he was in Brazil, where he was impressed by the country’s use of bio-fuel to power a quarter of its automotive traffic. Oil pressed from rapeseed can be used as diesel fuel, and maize or sugar beets can yield ethanol to replace gasoline.

The UN and many countries officially share the view that bio-fuel is one option in fighting climate change. The United States generously subsidizes production of ethanol from maize, with output there currently growing 12% annually and almost 10% worldwide. EU countries subsidized bio-fuels production with €3.7 billion in 2006, and intend to cover 8% of their motor fuels from biological sources by 2015 and 20% by 2020. The Kyoto Protocol allows countries to meet their target reductions of CO2 emissions by substituting bio-fuels for fossil fuels.

But is it really a wise and ethically acceptable strategy to burn food rather than eat it? If we allow food to be used to produce bio-fuels, food prices will be linked to the oil price, as the head of the German farmers association happily announced. Indeed, food prices are currently increasing in Europe, because more and more farmland is being used for bio-fuels instead of for food production.

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