I have been receiving lots of social media interest and comments on biofuels recently. Many are positive about the use of this rapidly growing technology, which can continue to generate jobs and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, but there are others who have expressed fears that a move towards biofuels is having a negative impact on the world's resources and is increasing hunger, forest destruction and greenhouse gas emissions.
In response to your messages and as Labour's Agriculture and Forestry spokesperson in the European Parliament, it's important that I set out my position on biofuel policy.
There is a place for biofuels in EU agriculture, transport and environment policies, but we have to get it right. Labour MEPs are clear that any European support for biofuels should not take precedence over sources of food, environmental protection or land rights.
Some forms of bioenergy, namely the so-called second- and third-generation biofuels such as timber processing wastes, urban waste wood and landfill methane, do not increase competition with food or land and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover they rely on technology and innovation, which often translate into new jobs. These methods should be encouraged as part of a holistic approach to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
However concerns expressed by campaigners, scientists and politicians - that some first-generation biofuels are an inefficient alternative energy resource whose production uses land otherwise needed for growing food, timber and for storing carbon - cannot be ignored. First-generation biofuel, which produces energy from crops, can have a damaging effect on food prices and land rights, particularly in developing countries where production has been encouraged, and often displaces food production or primeval forests.
A vote will take place today (24th February 2015) in the European Parliament's Environment Committee on the impact of Indirect Land Use Changes (ILUC) on greenhouse gas emissions and how to minimise that impact.
Today's vote will be to agree a position from Members of the Committee. This will then go forward to a vote of the whole Parliament in Strasbourg's Plenary session.
Together with my fellow Labour MEPs, and with the support of the Socialists and Democrats group, I have already tabled a number of amendments before the Committee, including:
• Identifying 'bad' bioenergy - first generation biofuels created from food crops - and calling for a lower cap on these fuels than the European Council has asked for: we are seeking a cap of 5% compared to the 7% the Council has proposed;
• Identifying 'good' biofuels - 'advanced' or second- / third-generation biofuels made from residues and not crops - and incentivising their production;
• A call for indigenous land rights to be respected, where production or requisition of land for production of biofuels is undertaken by European companies in developing countries (without prejudicing the need to move away completely from first-generation biofuels).
A full list of the amendments can be found here.
The Labour Party frontbench in the UK is also actively supporting the Labour Party's position in the European Parliament; my colleagues in Westminster have been calling on Government Ministers to ensure that they echo our calls in their negotiations with other Member State governments in the Council.
I am not indifferent to the concerns of UK-based biofuel industry. Indeed, I have met with representatives of UK bio-refineries who showed me how sustainable biofuel production - based to a large extent on locally-sourced raw material or often non-edible waste - can serve as an example for European policy. It is the European Parliament's responsibility now to agree on a solid and clear legal framework that would deliver stability and certainty to these businesses and secure jobs.
At the same time, Labour MPs and MEPs are not prepared to accept a European biofuel policy which compromises food production, environmental protection or land rights - whether in developing countries or within the EU itself - and we will do everything in our power to push for strong legislation in this area.
Paul Brannen is Labour MEP for North East of England and Labour spokesperson for Agriculture and Rural Development