From: CTVglobemedia - 5/06/2008
The final declaration of United Nations food summit will not call for controls on biofuels even though almost every delegate at conference agrees that turning crops into fuel has had some role in raising food prices to crisis point.
A draft declaration making the rounds at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the sponsor of the three-day summit which ends Thursday night, calls only for more study on the effect of biofuels on food security. At this point, there is no chance the final declaration will call for a moratorium on biofuels development.
"It is essential to address the challenges and opportunities posed by biofuels, in view of the world's food security, energy and sustainable development needs," the draft said.
The biofuels' stance reflects a split among the member and donor countries of the three UN food agencies in Rome. Some of the richest countries, among them the United States, Brazil, Canada and several European Union states, have large and expanding food-for-fuel industries. The poorer countries, among them Egypt and Venezuela, have been highly critical of biofuels because the crops used to make them take food off the table.
Estimates of the food price increases caused by biofuels productions ranges from 3 per cent to 60 per cent. The International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington puts the figure at 30 per cent.
Debate over the pros and cons of biofuels set the summit's tone from the onset. While the FAO itself has no single policy on biofuels, Jacques Diouf, the agency's director-general, said "nobody" understood why rich countries are subsidizing crop production "to fuel cars."
Even the World Food Program, the UN's emergency food-aid agency whose buying power has been greatly curtailed by soaring food prices, has taken the stance that biofuels can be both a hazard and an opportunity.
At WFP press conference this morning, WFP executive director Josette Sheeran said poor farmers are struggling to produce extra crops partly because they can't afford diesel fuel. Biofuels can help fill the void. "At $80 a barrel [for oil], it becomes cost effective to produce biofuels," she said. "Biofuels are a global phenomenon right now."
Several aid and anti-poverty agencies, including Oxfam and Actionaid, have called for the governments of biofuel-producing countries to stop subsidizing fuels such as corn-based ethanol.
On Wednesday, Canada made it clear it had no intention of doing so. In a speech Alex Himelfarb, Canada's ambassador to Italy, told food summit delegates that "Canada's balanced biofuels plan will see a very small fraction of our lower-grade crops being used to meet our practical biofuel goals of five per cent renewable content in gasoline...Given its size, the Canadian biofuels industry has a negligible effect on food and feed prices."