May 1, 2008
Call to stop use of grain-based biofuels
Food scientists say such a move would cut prices of corn and other grains
WASHINGTON – BILLIONS of dollars have been poured into developing ethanol and biodiesel to help wean rich economies from their addiction to carbon-belching fossil fuels, the overwhelming source of man-made global warming.
But now some top international food scientists have recommended a halt in the use of food-based biofuels like corn-based ethanol because they say such a move would cut corn prices by 20 per cent during a world food crisis.
A ‘biofuels frenzy’ and other misguided policies have led to the global food crisis in which prices have soared and rice consumption has outpaced production, threatening a billion people with malnutrition, experts said on Tuesday.
International agriculture researchers warned that farmers will need to double global food production by 2030 to meet rising demand.
They said nations need to rethink programmes that divert foods like corn and soya beans to ‘greener’ fuel, given the expanding worldwide food crisis. Such programmes force prices higher and remove farmland from food production.
If leading nations stopped biofuel use this year, it would lead to a price decline in corn by about 20 per cent and wheat by about 10 per cent from 2009-10, said Mr Joachim von Braun of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a global network that uses science to fight hunger.
Mr von Braun, who heads the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, the policy arm of the CGIAR, and two other scientists in the group said that work should be stepped up on the use of non-grain crops, such as switchgrass, for biofuel.
Soil sciences professor Rattan Lal of Ohio State University, who is not associated with the group, agreed with their call for a halt on the use of grain for fuel, saying: ‘We have one billion people who are food-insecure. We can’t afford the luxury of not taking care of them and taking care of gasoline.’
Mr von Braun said the US and other countries have to make a hard choice between fighting high fuel prices and fighting world hunger.
‘If you place a high value on food security for poor people, then the conclusion is clear that we step on the brake awhile,’ he said.
‘If you place a high value on national energy security, other considerations come into play.’
On Tuesday, US President George W. Bush declared that the United States should increase ethanol use because of national energy security and high gasoline prices.
A World Bank study has estimated that corn prices ‘rose by over 60 per cent from 2005-2007, largely because of the US ethanol programme’ along with market forces.
Other nations, such as South Africa, have stopped or slowed the push to ethanol. But as the US is the biggest producer, if it does nothing, other nations’ efforts will not amount to much, said Mr von Braun.
He said that many issues are causing the food crisis, especially market forces and speculation, but that biofuel use is a top cause.
But just how big biofuel’s effect is on food prices depends on who is talking.
A soon-to-be-released International Food Policy Research Institute analysis blames 30 per cent of the overall food price rise from 2000-2007 on biofuels.
An industry-funded study put the food cost rise from biofuels at 4 per cent.
WASHINGTON POST, ASSOCIATED PRESS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE