The increase in food prices in the last 18 months has been blamed by commentators partly on increasing demand for biofuels that are derived from agricultural commodities. As demand increases, so does the price of what raw material there is available for all uses, be it food, animal feed, or biofuel. But EuropaBio, the association that represents Europe's bioindustries, today insisted that that biofuel industry should not have an effect on food supply in Europe or third countries. The assertion forms part of one of four pillar of sustainability for the biofuels industry which were unveiled at the World Biofuels Market in Brussels. EuropaBio's position is that the role of the developing biofuels industry in current food price hikes has been over-played. It says although first generation biofuels are partly responsible since they used corn and other starch sources that are also required for food, higher demand for meat and dairy from emerging Asian economies and inclement weather in agricultural zones have had a bigger impact. Dirk Carrez, public policy director at EuropaBio, told FoodNavigator.com that increasing corn production would stabilise prices in the short term. But in the long term, greater investment is needed to spur development of second generation biofuels. While the bioethanol available today is derived from corn sugars, Carrez explained that new technologies in development are based on converting cellulose, which is not used by the food industries, into sugars. This technology has an additional sustainability benefit since it uses waste material, such as straw. Carrez said that estimations on how long it will be before second generation biofuels are commercially available depend on the level of investment. Based on current levels, he expects it will be five to seven years before the first commercial plants are operational in the US. The US department of energy is currently channelling finance into demonstration production plants, so that the processes can be optimised before production is stepped up to a commercial level. The same investment is not happening in Europe, however, said Carrez. Interestingly, it is European companies that are pioneering in development in the US since the funding is not available on their home turf. Other solutions In its position statement on biofuels and food, EuropaBio points to the adopted European directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (COM 2008 19). It says that the sustainability criteria contained in this have been specifically designed to avoid competition with food. "However the situation must be monitored carefully and food security should be of high importance. In extreme cases, governments should take appropriate measures to secure their food supply." As for increasing corn production to provide short-term relief to competition with foods and animal feed, the US 2007 yield was 327m tonnes, up from 265m tonnes in 2006. For 2007/8 US National Corn Growers Association expects the 2007/8 harvest to yield 700m bushels (around 17m tons) more than demand. "There will be no corn shortage," said EuropaBio, drawing on conclusions from the USDA's ProExporter network. Four pillars of sustainability An adjunct to the food supply point pillar states that biofuels should also not stand in the way of efforts to protect forests, prevent soils degradation and retain good ecological status of waters. The other three pillars are:
The development of a credible and robust certification scheme on an EU or global basis to guarantee that biofuels are produced in an environmentally sustainable way;
The development of sustainability criteria for the biomass used for fuel production as well as for all (energy) applications;
The support of a threshold value for greenhouse gas savings, restrictions on land use to avoid major reduction in carbon stocks and biodiversity loss from land use change.