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Biofuels - Savior or Culprit - Debate Goes On


A recent independent review of biofuels has found production of this alternative energy source has contributed to a global rise in the price of food. It also says biofuels could actually increase the very greenhouse gases they seek to reduce. As Tendai Maphosa reports from London this is just one of the many reports expressing concern and calling for a review of the biofuel issue.

The Gallagher review, commissioned by the British government, concludes that Britain should not abandon biofuels, but should slow down its production and use. The study advises a more cautious approach until international policies are put in place.

Critics argue rainforests and parts of the developing world may be affected adversely by land being turned over from food production to growing energy crops.

The British government has accepted the report's recommendations. Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly addressed parliament on its findings.

"Professor Gallagher also concludes that there is a risk that the uncontrolled expansion and use of biofuels could lead to unsustainable changes in land use such as the destruction of the rain forest to make way for the production of crops," she said. "This might in turn actually increase greenhouse gas emissions as well as contribute to higher food prices and shortages."

The report rejects calls for a moratorium saying that such a halt would reduce the ability of the biofuels industry to invest in new, improved technologies. Also, it adds, a moratorium would make it significantly more difficult for the longer-term potential of biofuels to be realized.

The anti-poverty agency Action Aid is one organization calling for a moratorium. In a recent hard hitting report entitled "Cereal Offenders" the group says biofuels have pushed food prices up by 30 percent. It calls for a five-year moratorium; an end to subsidies to those growing crops for fuel and a scaling up of other alternative energy sources.

Action Aid spokeswoman for biofuels, Claire Melamed tells VOA while the agency welcomes the Gallagher report's call for caution it is disappointed.

"We were hoping for a stronger response given that weight of evidence that we think should happen is we should stop producing biofuels now and have a complete rethink about how where and if we can produce biofuels that will help to reduce greenhouse gases without making hundreds of millions of people hungry," she said.

Britain has agreed to a European Union ruling that calls for all gasoline and diesel sold in the country to have a five percent biofuel content by 2010, rising to 10 percent by 2020. To this end, starting this year 2.5 percent of all gasoline and diesel fuel sold in Britain is now derived from crops. However, Transportation Secretary Ruth Kelly said because of the Gallagher findings, the targets are now under review.

VOA spoke to Ferran Tarradellas, an EU spokesman for Energy. He argued that there is no evidence linking biofuels to the high food prices.

"If you see which is the commodity which price has the most, this commodity is rice and there is not a single drop of biofuel produced out of rice," said Tarradellas. "We have calculated that to reach our ten percent target, we will need four million tons of agricultural commodities per year in the next years until 2020, the global market for cereals is 2,200 million tons so I don't see how four million tons could have any impact whatsoever."

Biofuels are mainly produced from food crops such as corn, sugar cane and vegetable oils.

Earlier this month the Guardian daily newspaper, quoting a confidential World Bank report, reported that biofuels have forced global food prices up by as much as 75 percent. The report, the Guardian says, is based on what it called the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally respected economist at the global financial body.

The EU's Tarradellas says he has a copy of the World Bank report, but says the Guardian misrepresented the facts.

Biofuels, climate change and global food prices have all been on the agenda at the G8 summit in Japan. At the summit, World Bank President Robert Zoelick said biofuels had contributed to food price rises. He specifically singled out fuels made from corn and rapeseed produced in the United States and the EU.



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