Campaign blog

Things hotting up ahead of biofuels vote this Wednesday

Lucy Hurn's picture Lucy Hurn Biofuels Campaign Manager

Things are really hotting up in the run up to a crucial vote this Wednesday when MEPs across Europe could vote to cap the proportion of biofuels that compete with food. In all the time I’ve worked at ActionAid, I’ve never seen this level of interest, or support for our position, which gives me real hope MEPs will vote for Food not Fuel!

ActionAid campaigners outside the European Parliament call for Food not Fuel
ActionAid campaigners outside the European Parliament call for Food not Fuel
Photo: Saidane Lode/ActionAid

ActionAid is calling for a cap on biofuels that compete with food because biofuels drive hunger by taking food out of the food system – each year Europe burns enough food to feed over 100 million people – fuelling food price rises and land grabs.

Last week ActionAid UK volunteers joined campaigners from across Europe to take the call for Food not Fuel to MEPs in Brussels. On top of two days of frenetic activity lobbying their MEPs, Brussels lamp posts were covered with posters demanding Food not Fuel and our stunt outside the Parliament (filling a mini with campaigners dressed in giant corn cob costumes, as you do!) told our simple message: "Food should be used to feed people, not fill cars".

And there’s a real biofuels buzz in the media – the Independent covered our report on a biofuel plantation driving hunger in Sierra Leone, the Guardian warns that palm oil use now accounts for 20% of biodiesel used in Europe, and most strikingly, new research from the JRC, the EU’s own scientific research laboratory shows that Brussels biofuels policy will lead to food prices of up to 50% in Europe and a letter in the Guardian from the CEOs of charities including ActionAid calls on the UK government and MEPs to support the lowest possible cap.

So where are we at? So far the Greens are taking the strongest position - UK Green MEPs Keith Taylor and Jean Lambert are supporting an amendment shunning the use of food crops for fuel altogether. In the words of Keith Taylor “To put it simply, I think that productive land should be used to feed people, not to feed the rich world's addiction to driving”.

The Labour group so far are supporting a 5.5% cap on the proportion of food based biofuels, which whilst not as low as we are calling for, is better than the Lib Dem position who currently plan to support a cap at 6%. We’re waiting to hear what the Conservatives plan to vote for. But MEPs can still choose to vote according to their conscience rather than party lines.

The MEPs we met last week said they'd really noticed and were listening to the public pressure on this issue. It’s not too late to make a difference, you've still got a few days to email your MEPs to demand they vote for Food not Fuel

Why I'm going to Brussels to talk about biofuels

Ruby Smith's picture Ruby Smith ActionAid Supporter

I'm Ruby, a 23 year old ActionAid campaigner from Sheffield. By day I work in Social Care and in my spare time I'm an avid campaigner, passionate about all things relating to the reduction of poverty and inequality.

As Monday gets closer, I'm getting more excited and anxious about my trip to Brussels as an ActionAid campaigner to talk to MEP's about the fantastic 'Food not Fuel' campaign.

Food not Fuel comel to Brussels
ActionAid campaigners in Brussels earlier this year calling for Food not Fuel
Photo: Lucy Hurn/ActionAid

I'm a combination of excited and anxious because the campaign holds so much potential it's hard not to be excited at the prospect of being involved, but I'm anxious because the work's not over yet; MEP's still have to vote on whether to limit the amount of fuel burnt as fuel in Europe, a lot is still hanging in the balance.

The Food not Fuel campaign is something that I'm really passionate about for so many reasons. Primarily, I care about the campaign because I care about the lives and livelihoods that are affected by the use of biofuels and because I'm baffled by the fact that Europe burns enough food in our cars as biofuels to feed 100 million people, whilst 1 in 8 people go hungry.

But I'm also passionate about the campaign because, whilst current EU biofuel plans would have the same climate impact as adding 26 million cars to the roads and would see the prices of some staple crops hike to unaffordable prices, most people I speak to have never heard of biofuels and have no idea about the impact the use of food as fuel is having on people's lives and on the environment. And I want to help change that.

I'm going to Brussels today with a small group of ActionAid supporters to talk to MEP's because I think the European Parliament needs to hear and respond to the concerns of the thousands of people who have asked their MEP's to vote in favour of capping the use of biofuels that cause hunger. I'm also going because I want to raise awareness of the Food not Fuel campaign, with the hope that more and more people will understand the impacts of biofuels and the need to take action to reduce their use.

Taking action is quick and easy, you can contact you MEP here to ask them to vote to limit the amount of biofuels that cause hunger - but there's only a week left before MEP's vote so don't delay, tell your MEP that you want them to vote for Food not Fuel!

I will also be video blogging my trip to Brussels, so keep an eye on the ActionAid Facebook and Twitter accounts for updates on how we're getting on.

What have MEPs been saying about Food not Fuel?

Ema Jackson's picture Ema Jackson Campaigns Assistant

Over 27,000 letters and emails have already been sent to MEPs demanding Food Not Fuel. If you’ve already taken action, well done and thank you! It’s crucial that as many people as possible contact their MEPs in the next few weeks, so if you haven’t had a chance yet or want to tell your friends about the campaign, please take action now

Food not Fuel

Many of you have been in touch to say that you’ve received replies from your MEPs and would like a bit of advice on how to respond.

MEPs are currently on recess so some of you have been getting ‘out of offices’ from them. While their Brussels offices are technically closed, their constituencies’ aren’t, and they may well see your email. We asked people to contact MEPs now partly so those MEPs who are away will come back to bulging postbags about the vote and for those who are there it gives them a bit more time. There is still a full two weeks before the vote when MEPs come back from recess.  

Responses from Conservative MEPs

All of the Conservative replies we’ve seen outline recent progress on biofuels, namely that the environment committee voted to propose at 5.5% cap on food based biofuels, (progress that wouldn’t have happened without our campaign!) rather than actually stating how the conservatives will vote at the crucial vote in September.

So if you have a conservative response that you would like to reply to, please thank them and welcome the news that the committee voted for the 5.5% cap, and ask them to say exactly how they will vote.

Responses from Labour MEPs

The responses we have seen from Labour have been generally positive, but they are also being a bit non-committal about how they will vote, so please press them to confirm support for the campaign. And to confirm what the Labour party line is on this issue.

Responses from Liberal Democrat MEPs

The main message in their replies is that they are committed to environmental sustainability and have an understanding of the negative impacts of biofuels. However, they also don’t say exactly how they will be voting in September. So if you have a response like this then you could email back to say thank you and ask they will be voting and how their Lib Dem colleagues will be voting – especially in light of the Lib Dem paper calling for a 5% cap

Members of others parties have confirmed they will vote for food not fuel. If you want to respond to this please do, but as this is the key action MEPs can take we don’t need to ask them to take further action. 

A few MEPs have also confused the cap we are calling for with the CAP (common agricultural policy) which is a different issue – if this is the case for your MEP then it would be good to go back to them to explain that you are asking about a vote on biofuels in September and ask how they will be voting.

Hundreds of you have also contacted your local papers about this issue. And several campaigners have already had their letters published, helping to raise awareness of this issue in your area. This is fantastic – thank you! Let’s keep up the pressure together so that MEPs vote for Food Not Fuel in September. Email your MEP today.

Feeling the biofuels pressure in Guatemala

Lucy Hurn's picture Lucy Hurn Biofuels Campaign Manager

"Before, when I had my land, I used to cultivate my corn, my beans, my rice, also bananas, plantains, and everything that we harvested. Now my family doesn’t have enough food to be able to feed ourselves on a daily basis."

Amalia Choc Choc
Amalia, from the Polochic valley in Guatemala, with her son in the middle of the land they were evicted from
Photo: Daniele Volpe/ActionAid

Amalia is from the Inup-Aguacaliente community in the Polochic Valley, in the North of Guatemala. Along with others from her community, she was violently evicted from her land to make way for plantations to grow sugar that could be turned into biofuels to fuel cars in Europe. After losing the land her community had lived and worked for generations, she struggles to feed her family.

Between 2003 and 2008, most of the land in the Polochic Valley was taken over to establish sugar plantations. When the company responsible declared bankruptcy in 2009 the land lay idle and so some of the communities returned to the lands they had depended on before. But in March 2011 approximately 800 Q’eqchi’ families were violently evicted from the land. Serious human rights violations, including a number of fatalities, were reported during the evictions.

Members of K'Quinich community looking over to the land from where the community was evicted.Members of the community look over to the land from where they were evicted.

The communities now live in the surrounding area, renting small plots to live on. There is little work, and many struggle to feed their families. The communities are campaigning for their rights to be respected and in June 2011 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the state of Guatemala to take action to protect the lives of those in the community.

European biofuels targets drive the expansion of plantations to grow crops to be turned into biofuels. These plantations are often in areas where the communities have weak land rights, such as in Polochic Valley, or are won over by promises, often unfilled, made by the companies. Such plantations are often in areas already experiencing severe lack of food even before the land is taken – in the Polochic Valley 65% to 85% of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Amalia said “Before I spent my days happy, with my children, and with my house, and now I have no house. I can’t work anymore. If I had land, I would work. Before the children used to study. They like to learn. But you have to pay for school, where am I going to find this money?”

Amalia doesn’t benefit from the sugar plantation that is on the land where she used to farm. She told us “We don’t want the company here. We do not want any more sugarcane. I cannot eat sugarcane. Let’s see how this sugarcane can get rid of hunger!”.

Amalia wants Food not Fuel. This September MEPs could vote on whether to limit the amount of food burnt as fuel in Europe. But they will only do this if you demand they act. Please support the call for Food not Fuel by emailing your MEPs today:

The European Parliament must vote for Food not Fuel

Lucy Hurn's picture Lucy Hurn Biofuels Campaign Manager

This September MEPs will be voting in the European Parliament on whether to limit the amount of food burnt as biofuels in the cars of Europe. Join us in the latest phase of the biofuels campaign, email your MEP today and ask them to vote for Food not Fuel!

Food not Fuel campaigners outside the European Parliament
Food not Fuel campaigners outside the European Parliament
Photo: ActionAid

Winning the vote in the European Parliament will be a big challenge, industry is going all guns blazing to lobby MEPs to protect their interests by keeping the status quo. But I’m confident we can win - we’re working with a great coalition of organisations across Europe to build the campaign, and we’ve already come so far in the campaign.

Starting with a community problem
We first started working on biofuels in 2009 because colleagues in the south told us of growing problems of communities they worked with losing their land (and with it their livelihoods) to make way for massive plantations growing crops for biofuels.

Halima Weli from Kisarawe, Tanzania, lost her land to a biofuels company. Halima Weli from Kisarawe, Tanzania, lost her land to a biofuels company.

It's not coincidnce that the same year the Renewable Energy Directive was introduced in Europe, including a target to ensure 10% of transport is powered by renewable sources. The intentions behind the target were good, but it led to a biofuel industry springing up to serve it without clarity on how the true carbon emissions from biofuels would be calculated.

The campaign has come a long way
In 2011, we were successful in getting the Transport Minister, Norman Baker, to freeze UK targets, agreeing that “there remain a number of uncertainties regarding the sustainability of biofuels and their best use”.

In October last year, the European Commission (EC) released the long awaited proposal on how to deal with the carbon emissions from biofuels, and also proposed a cap on biofuels made from food – a huge step in recognising the impact of biofuels on food security. The proposal now needs to be agreed by both European member states and MEPs.

The Field of Wheat takes to the road
Last year we took our ‘field of wheat petition’ to meetings between supporters and key UK ministers who could influence the UK’s position in European talks. Including Norman Baker who leads on biofuels at the Department for Transport, Ed Davey, Energy and Climate Change Secretary and Lynne Featherstone, Development Minister.

Local campaigners meet Norman Baker MP and Ed Davey MP

Then one morning in April MPs on their way to work were greeted by a giant field of wheat outside Parliament!

Field of Wheat springs up outside the Houses of ParliamentField of Wheat springs up outside the Houses of Parliament

Key MPs came out show their support for Food not Fuel and not long after, the Prime Minister said "I agree that we should not allow the production of biofuels to undermine food security. We want to go further than the European Commission's proposed cap of 5% on crop-based biofuels". This message was repeated by Justine Greening, Development Secretary on the day of the Big IF rally in Hyde Park. 

So where are we now?
The field of wheat also made its way over to Brussels where supporters met MEPs who are also scrutinising the EC proposal. In July the lead committee of MEPs supported a cap on biofuels made from food or other crops grown on land that could grow food. 

Whilst we would rather see no food for fuel in Europe, we believe a cap of 5% is the best we can get passed right now and if this is passed, will show investors the days are numbered for food based biofuels in Europe.

So we need as many people as possible to email their MEPs before they vote on 11th September. It only takes a few minutes, and with European Parliament elections on the horizon next year, MEPs will be paying particular attention to what their voters have to say. If you’ve already taken action, please do share with your friends.

As Amalia from Guatemala, who lost her land to a plantation to grow sugar that could fuel cars in Europe, says she needs food, not crops to produce fuel "We do not want any more sugarcane. I cannot eat sugarcane. Let’s see how this sugarcane can get rid of hunger!”.

Join with her and demand Food not Fuel today. 

Join us in Brussels to call for Food not Fuel

Natasha Adams's picture Natasha Adams Activism Officer

We’re inviting campaigners to apply to join us for a trip to Brussels, to push the European Parliament to vote for Food Not Fuel in September.

ActionAid campaign volunteers in Brussels earlier this year
ActionAid campaign volunteers in Brussels earlier this year
Photo: ActionAid

One in eight people go hungry each day. Yet we’re taking food and burning it in our cars as biofuels. Every year Europe burns enough food as biofuels to feed over 100m people. We have a great opportunity to influence MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) before an important vote which could cap the amount of European biofuels made from food.

You should apply to join us if:

  • You’re free from Monday 2nd – Wednesday 4th September
  • You’re up for lobbying your MEP (full training will be provided)
  • You think food being burnt as fuel is crazy and unjust
  • You’d like to meet other ActionAid campaigners from across Europe

As the new Activism Officer, this will be my first trip with ActionAid! I’m really looking forward to meeting lots of our amazing campaigners. This is what campaigner Rachel Cox (first on the left in the above picture) said about coming to Brussels with us earlier this year:

“The trip itself was extremely empowering; being able to have my own voice heard... by people who have the power to change legislation made me realise how much of a difference we can really make if we speak up about what we believe in.”

We will cover the expenses of campaigners on the trip.

If you are interested please download the application form, complete it and return the form to me at natasha.adams@actionaid.org by Monday 12th August: