Don’t blame biofuels for food shortage

21 May, 2008 01:23 PM
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THE use of crops to generate biofuels has been blamed for the increasing shortage of food across the world.

A large portion of negative media attention is fixed on the biofuels industry which uses basic food commodities - maize, sugar cane or vegetable oil - to make the fuel.

Public sympathy is shifting against the practice in the face of starving populations.

The backlash has seen lawmakers and agricultural experts conducting a public debate, mostly through the media, on the merits of converting food into biofuels.

This highly emotive argument has placed the biofuels industry under intense political scrutiny.

In particular, public angst has focussed on recent plans to increase prescribed mandates for biofuels’ production in the UK and the US.

These mandates use government legislation to divert crops such as canola and corn into biofuel production.

The European Union has a controversial proposal to source 10pc of its transport fuels from renewable sources such as biofuels and will vote in July.

The United Nations has warned that the cost of imported food for the world’s poorest countries has jumped by 25pc this year, the highest on record.

Some of the countries facing critical food shortages include 20 in Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan.

Food riots caused by shortages and rising prices have been staged in Mexico, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Senegal.

But WA Agriculture Minister Kim Chance disagrees about the biofuel claims and has called for a deeper understanding and analysis of all the factors in the food-versus-biofuel debate.

Mr Chance said it was wrong to hold biofuels responsible for recent global food shortages when other factors were also impacting on the heavily strained supply and demand equation in the world’s food chain.

He said anyone who made biofuels solely responsible for causing recent riots in food-strapped countries was merely using crude economic arguments to reach their conclusion.

"It is just nonsense to say that food is being taken out of the mouths of poor people and turned into fuel," Mr Chance said.

"It does not stand up to any deeper analysis.

"All the arguments I have heard so far have used really crude analysis.

"They have said taking food out of the cycle and putting it in cars is the cause for the high prices we have now.

"But when you go beyond that crude economic analysis and say ‘how come rice has been the fastest rising of all the grains?’, it actually makes nonsense of the assertion."

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