FAO Official: Food-Based Biofuels Not Necessarily Bad
by Sarantis Michalopoulos (EURACTIV) Brazil demonstrates that sugar cane cultivation can supply both food and ethanol for fuel without harming the environment or pushing up food prices, a senior official from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has said.
Speaking at a EURACTIV event on Wednesday (7 June), Olivier Dubois, a FAO senior natural resources officer, said the biofuels debate was a complex issue which should avoid “oversimplification and sweeping statements” because they do not reflect the reality.
One such sweeping statement, he said, “is that food-based biofuels are necessarily bad for food”, when they should be seen as a tool for responsible investment in agriculture and rural development.
In support of this argument, Dubois cited the example of Brazil’s sugarcane – a food crop that he said was not known to cause fundamental problems in terms of food security or create great land use changes.
“Brazilians have invested a lot in sugar and now they can produce both food from sugar and ethanol fuel,” he said.
As to the much-decried palm oil, Dubois said it makes up two thirds of the vegetable oil produced worldwide and has a yield three or four times higher than any other vegetable oil.
“In Indonesia for instance, 45% of palm oil is produced by small-scale farmers,” Dubois remarked. “So basically if you ban palm oil we will need a lot more land to produce the same amount of vegetable oil and you might severely affect small farmers,” he warned, adding there were ways to produce palm oil sustainably.
“These two examples show that every circumstance is different and needs to have a case-by-case approach,” the FAO official said.
For Bascou (Pierre Bascou from the European Commission’s agriculture directorate (DG AGRI)), EU agriculture has shown its ability to meet this additional demand from the energy policy and has succeeded without affecting EU food security.
Bascou said the legal framework set out by the post-2020 biofuels’ proposal would provide sufficient certainty, time and incentives for the industry to invest in the riskier advanced biofuels. “At the same time, considering the current level of production of food-based biofuels, the investments in current installations should not be put in danger.”
Marie Donnelly, former Director of Renewables, Research, and Energy Efficiency at the Commission, admitted last year that the executive could not be led by economic models and scientific theories alone.
“We have to be very sensitive to the reality of citizens’ concerns, sometimes even if these concerns are emotive rather than factually based or scientific,” she told EURACTIV at the time, adding that the first concern regarding conventional biofuels was a purely emotive reaction to “food versus fuel”.
Asked how the Commission measures public opinion, Bascou replied it used public consultations and Eurobarometer surveys.
The latest Eurobarometer survey on biofuels, though, was conducted as far back as 2010 and showed that a large majority of Europeans (72%) felt that biofuels should be encouraged and only 20% held the opposite view. No Eurobarometer survey on biofuels has been published since. READ MORE and MORE (Biofuels International)