Time to tackle rising food prices caused by biofuels | ActionAid UK

Anders Dahlbeck

Policy Adviser

I was pleased to see the UK's International Development Committee's (IDC) sobering report on Global Food Security this week. The IDC was very clear about one thing: biofuels production is pushing up food prices. In fact, it categorically stated that "Biofuels are driving higher and more volatile food prices and are having a major detrimental impact on food security." Doesn't leave much room for interpretation, does it?

Athumani, is the chairman of the Mhaga village committee in Tanzania, where many people have lost land to Sun Biofuels' jatropha plantation. Here Athumani poses beside a campaign slogan displayed during a meeting to discuss action against the company.

As for solutions, the IDC recommended that “the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which commits the UK to consuming biofuel equivalent to 5% of transport fuel volumes, be revised to exclude agriculturally produced biofuels.”

Biofuels are currently being discussed in the European Union which is revising its biofuels policies. The UK government has been pushing to address the carbon emissions associated with biofuels consumption through so called Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) factors, which is a way to ensure that all the extra carbon emissions resulting from biofuels production are accounted for.

This is important and should be commended, but the UK government has remained silent on proposals of capping the amount of food that can be used as fuel.  The IDC makes it clear that “The introduction of ILUC factors and the imposition of a cap are not mutually exclusive options: both can be pursued concurrently. We recommend that the UK Government push for both, and that it push for the cap to be set at as low a level as possible.”

It seems that the UK’s Government, as well as many of its MEPs, bury their heads in the sand regarding the food price impacts of biofuels consumption. That is despite the OECD, the UN and even the EU itself pointing out that a correlation between switching agricultural land from food production to biofuels production causes food prices. Why is the evidence being ignored? In part, because of effective lobbying from the biofuels industry which focuses on short-term profits and seems to take little account of how biofuels production can affect people and the environment.

While it is in the nature of private companies to try to maximise profits - that is what they are there for — it is disappointing that the politicians we have elected to represent us seem to be defending the corporate interest of a few rather than addressing climate change and food price rises that ultimately affect all of us.

The IDC has addressed the negative effects of biofuels in a refreshingly honest way. Now our politicians here in Westminster and our elected representatives in Brussels must take note of the IDC’s report and act accordingly.

A coalition of UK NGOs including ActionAid, Friends of the Earth, RSPB, Greenpeace, Save the Children and Oxfam is calling on the UK and EU to account for all climate impacts of biofuel production and to end the use of food for fuel.

Read our calls on the EU and UK to end the use of food for fuel

Tom Pietrasik/ActionAid

Read more like this