MPs call to scrap biofuels support in face of rising food prices

MPs have today issued calls to exclude agriculturally-produced biofuels from the UK's existing biofuels support mechanism, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO).

Issued alongside the publication of its report on Global Food Security, the International Development Committee claimed that agriculturally-produced biofuels are having a major detrimental impact on global food security by driving higher and more volatile food prices.

International Development Committee chairman Sir Malcolm Bruce said that EU targets requiring 10% of transport energy to be drawn from renewable sources by 2020 were likely to cause dramatic food price increases.

“While we recognise that refining the RFTO will make it harder for the UK to meet current EU obligations, the relevant target does not kick in until 2020 so there is nothing to stop the UK from revising the RTFO now to exclude agriculturally-produced biofuels,” he said.

Bruce added: “Biofuel crops not only displace food crops but are in some cases providing energy sources that are potentially more damaging to the environment than fossil fuels.”

Renewables trade group, the Renewable Energy Association (REA), said it was “deeply concerned” with the committee’s findings.

REA chief executive Gaynor Hartnell claimed that the Committee did not invite any witnesses from the industry, and therefore did not hear about the benefits biofuels could bring.

“Demand for biofuels can help improve agricultural productivity, and biofuel manufacture produces high-protein, environmentally-sound animal feeds. Strict sustainability criteria ensure only biofuels with high carbon savings count towards renewable energy targets,” she said.

Hartnell also argued that removing support for crop-based biofuels would “send icy chills down the spines” of any prospective future investors in advanced biofuels made from wastes.

According to the REA, the production of bioethanol produces even more animal feed than it does fuel, so it would actually boost food security.

The organisation also cited analysis by the World Bank that found increases in global food prices are increasingly driven by increases in global oil prices, making an increase in biofuels indirectly responsible for a reduction in food costs.

In addition, REA claimed that while the RTFO requires biofuels to achieve 35% carbon savings versus conventional road fuels, on average, biofuels used in the UK actually achieve a 61% GHG saving .

According to the REA, this demonstrates the industry’s commitment to minimising greenhouse gas emissions.

Conor McGlone

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