October 11, 2007 - 9:30 PM
UN rapporteur calls for biofuel moratorium
More and more corn is being used for biofuel at the expense of food,
according to Jean Ziegler
Image caption: More and more corn is being used for biofuel at the
expense of food, according to Jean Ziegler (Keystone)
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food is demanding
an international five-year ban on producing biofuels to combat soaring
Switzerland's Jean Ziegler said the conversion of arable land for plants
used for green fuel had led to an explosion of agricultural prices which
was punishing poor countries forced to import their food at a greater cost.
"232kg of corn is needed to make 50 litres of bioethanol," Ziegler said
on Thursday. "A child could live on that amount of corn for a year."
Using land for biofuels would result in "massacres", he said, predicting
a reduction in the amount of food aid sent to developing countries by
"It's a total disaster for those who are starving."
Ziegler's proposal for a five-year moratorium, which he plans to submit
to the UN General Assembly on October 25, is aiming to ban the
conversion of land for the production of biofuels.
Ziegler said he hoped that by the time the moratorium was lifted science
would have made sufficient progress to be able to create "second
generation" biofuels, made from agricultural waste or from
non-agricultural plants such as jatropha, which grows naturally on arid
Taking Brazil as an example, Ziegler said he deplored the fact that
sugar cane plantations, whose products were used for biofuels, were
spreading at the expense of food-producing land.
He said ten hectares (100,000 square metres) of food-producing land
could sustain an average of seven to ten farmers, whereas the same area
could only produce enough sugar cane for one farmer.
Threat to poor
Only two years ago, with the twin spectres of peak oil prices and
climate change looming, biofuels seemed the ideal alternative energy.
Now it is the poor who have to contend with the flip side of biofuels:
spiralling cereal prices, say experts.
"The days of cheap food are over," said Joachim von Braun, director of
the International Food Policy Research Institute, in an article for the
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in September.
Over the past decade, while production of biofuels using corn,
sugarcane, soybean and other staples has risen dramatically,
malnutrition has continued. Nearly 900 million people worldwide suffer
hunger, 70 per cent of them food producers, peasants and rural dwellers.
Von Braun warns this figure could hit one billion in just a few years
and that rising demand and increased bioenergy costs are affecting food
"The bioenergy market receives considerable state funding and is
dominated by the heavyweights in the oil, cereal and automobile
industry," he said.
"Barring technological progress and enactment of regulations based on
transparent standards, we are looking at a 20-40 per cent increase in
food prices between now and 2020. And the poorest, some of whom live on
50 cents a day, will be unable to foot the bill."
A study commissioned by the Swiss authorities in May also concluded that
biofuels might not be the panacea for the world's fossil-fuel woes.
Such fuels, touted as an ecologically friendly source of energy, might
be more harmful for the environment than their fossil counterparts, it said.
According to the authors, while it was true that biofuels might emit
less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels when consumed, producing them
was generally more stressful on the environment.
Growing and processing crops for energy purposes or feedstock can have
the heaviest environmental impact, as soil quality can be affected
adversely, for example through fertiliser overuse.
swissinfo with agencies
The Age (Australia)
Biofuel crops a 'crime against humanity'
October 29, 2007
Crime: A child under 10, like this one, dies from hunger or disease
related to malnutrition every five seconds.
A PROMINENT United Nations activist against famine has demanded a
five-year moratorium on biofuels as a new report showed Australia could
use its sugar to become a major global provider of ethanol.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, said it
was a "crime against humanity" to convert food crops to fuel, driving up
food prices when there are 854 million hungry people in the world.
Dr Ziegler said a child under 10 dies from hunger or disease related to
malnutrition every five seconds.
A study by global consulting group Accenture found Australia could
become a big ethanol producer if all our sugar exports were converted to
The report compared six big sugar cane-producing countries — Australia,
Thailand, Guatemala, South Africa, Colombia and Argentina — in 2005 and
found that Australia had the biggest volume of exports.
Thus, Australia had the highest level of potential ethanol production —
more than 3000 million litres of ethanol, Accenture said.
However, Australia was falling behind most of the big players in the
global ethanol market in terms of industry maturity and production. The
leaders are Brazil, the United States, China, Spain, Poland, France,
Sweden and Ukraine.
Australia was also being disadvantaged by only operating in the domestic
biofuels market, the study said.
Sugar won out as the best feedstock for ethanol against all comers.
Criteria included production costs, fossil energy balance, land
availability and the size of the global feedstock market.
For biodiesel, results were mixed, based on feedstocks such as soybeans,
rapeseed, jatropha, coconut oil and palm oil.
"Soy-based biodiesel and jatropha are becoming increasingly important as
sustainability issues challenge the future of palm oil," the report said.
The study, which compared 20 countries, said several factors would
influence the success of the biofuels market.
These included the emergence of second-generation technologies, the
development of the hybrid automobile market, and what key
energy-consuming nations such as China, India and Japan do.
Other factors were companies' ability to gain feedstock, and lower
transport and production costs; pressure from governments to achieve
energy security; policies favouring agriculture in almost all countries;
and regulations encouraging biofuel use to reduce carbon dioxide
emissions. "We believe that biofuels will experience a cycle similar to
that of the internet during the dot-com bubble," said Melissa Stark, a
senior executive in Accenture's Energy industry group.
"Initially there will be a boom followed by a downturn as the realities
of practically scaling this market become more apparent."
The study found that incentives would encourage new entrants to the
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