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Should Food Feed People or Cars?

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This Wednesday, members of the European Parliament will vote on the future of European biofuels policies. The legislation and science around biofuels is pretty complicated, but the choice that MEPs have this week is actually very simple.

There can be no doubt that taking food crops and agricultural land out of the food production system causes hunger. The respected and prominent organisations that acknowledge the relationship between biofuels production and higher food prices are numerous, including the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the UK parliament's International Development Committee, to name just a few.

In fact, as recently as last week, the European Commission's Joint Research Centre published a study stating that the price of food stuffs such as vegetable oil in Europe would be up to 50 per cent lower if there were no EU policy support for biofuels.

Hikes in food prices hit us all hard, and the trend for more costly shopping bills hasn't gone unnoticed in the UK. But in the developing world, this is literally a life or death situation for some.

Yet many decision-makers are hanging on to food-based biofuels in the vain hope that they will be a quick fix to meet our climate goals. Unfortunately there is plenty of science, including from the European Commission, proving that many types of biofuels are actually worse for the climate than the fossil fuels they were meant to replace. The green argument for biofuels simply doesn't hold up.

Politicians have been struggling with the dilemma of how to withdraw support from a sector that claims to provide jobs and development in rural areas. The truth is that across Europe, the biofuels sector receives billions of euros in subsidies, yet produces a relatively small amount of jobs. It is highly likely that EU billions invested in any another sector - one that doesn't contribute to global hunger - would create at least as many jobs, if not more.

Many politicians have been painting themselves into a corner, defending biofuels policies so much that a change in direction, however sensible at this point, would seem like defeat. But voting for a low cap on the amount of crop-based biofuels we can use in European cars to ensure that we don't contribute to rising food prices and world hunger wouldn't be defeat; it would be the only wise and decent thing to do.

In a world of difficult decisions regarding complex economic problems and violent conflicts, on Wednesday our European politicians are instead faced with a simple question, to which there is a straightforward answer. Let's hope they make the right choice.

Around the Web

A greasy new EU biofuels controversy | Brussels blog - Blogs - FT.com

EU debates U-turn on biofuels policy : Nature News & Comment

Can biofuels policy work for food security - Gov.UK

For science's sake, the EU must legislate on biofuels land use ...

BP shuns advanced biofuels investment in EU | Reuters

Biofuels policy faces critical European vote

UK urged to back EU biofuels cap

This week at the European Parliament