Four simple truths about biofuels

3 September, 2013 | GROW

What comes first: food or fuel? Ask your Member of the European Parliament

Next week, the European Parliament will vote on the reform of Europe’s biofuels legislation. By a show of hands they will answer one very simple question: what comes first, food of fuel?

To drive or to eat

What’s more important? The answer to this question should be straightforward. But not for the biofuels industry and farming lobbies that have been relentless in their efforts to capture European decision-making to serve their interests.

Mock Economist magazine coverSo here are a few truths you could be telling your MEP to make sure she or he puts food first when voting next week. Oxfam will be trying to get their attention too by meeting key decision-makers in Brussels, pinning this mock-up (right) of a well-read news magazine on to their office doors and holding media stunts with our allies in ActionAid, Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace and many others.

Over the coming weeks, we'll be delivering the same messages to European governments who also have a role in deciding the future of Europe’s biofuels policy.

Four simple truths about biofuels

1. Biofuels are fuelling hunger.

Biofuels are fuelling hunger in poor countries so that people in rich countries can fill up their fuel tanks.With wealthy countries demanding ever more food for fuel, food prices soar and millions go hungry.

2. Biofuels are greedy for land.

They are triggering a rush for big land deals around the globe, forcing smallholder farmers off their fields in unjust land grabs, destroying livelihoods and draining our limited water resources – supported by money from the taxpayer’s pocket.

3. Most biofuels are not green.

A threat to our precious forests and the life within them, monoculture plantations to grow biofuels are polluting water, soil and wildlife. The vast majority of biofuels aren’t even helping to combat climate change because they cause higher greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.

4. You can make your voice heard!

On September 11th your MEP decides what comes first: food or fuel. Add your signature and social media voice to one of these petitions:

Italy / Ireland / Germany

Scrap the EU biofuels target

In a world where almost 900 million people go to bed hungry every night, support for biofuels that fuel land grabs and food price spikes should be completely phased out.This means the current European 10% binding target for renewable energy in transport by 2020, which is being largely met though biofuels, should be scrapped.

A first step in the right direction is to vote in favour of the proposal put forward by the Parliament’s Environment Committee to limit the share of biofuels competing with food for crops and land to 5.5%.

Voting for a higher share of biofuels would mean nothing less than putting fuel before food. And cars before people.

Tell us: What do you think is more important?

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Read the Oxfam report: Hunger Grains: The fight is on. Time to scrap EU biofuels mandates

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Is it really that simple?

I'm sure your intentions are good, but do the facts support your malthusian analysis? Most biodiesel (the largest total component of biofuel) used in the UK last year was produced from waste food material. Most bioethanol blended with petrol came from US corn. If biofuel mandates ended tomorrow there would likely be a one-off, temporary fall in corn prices, but would that really improve food security and nutrition for the poor for more than a few months. Simple truths are often not the full truth.

Thats not true Ricardo

Brazil is a massive producer of fuel ethanol, produced from cane grown on land which mostly used to be rain forest.   The biggest supply of biodiesel is from vegetable oils such as rape seed oil, soya and palm oils - the latter also produced at great cost to natural forestry in the far east and south america. Recycled cooking oil is a tiny proportion of the biodiesel market and is frankly a marketing stunt.  Biofuels starve people, lead to deforestation and the displacement and death of animals whose natural habitats have been destroyed, all so that we can reduce the direct subsidies to farmers without any proven environmental benefit.  Its really quite sickening.