“Nobody understands how $11 to $12 billion a year of subsidies in 2006 and protective tariff policies have had the effect of diverting 100 million tonnes of cereals from human consumption, mostly to satisfy a thirst for fuel for vehicles,” said FAO head Jacques Diouf, opening the summit at the body’s Rome headquarters.
Under U.S. plans, about a quarter of the U.S. maize crop will be channeled into ethanol production by 2022 and the European Union is aiming for as much as 10 percent of road transport fuel to be biofuel by 2020.
The former U.N. special investigator on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, called for a halt to such policies. His predecessor, Jean Ziegler, once branded the use of farmland to make fuel a “crime against humanity”.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer played down the significance of biofuels, saying they contributed only around 3 percent of the sharp food price rises which have put an extra 100 million people at risk of hunger — far less than the 30 percent claimed by campaign groups.
Opponents say biofuels not only push up food prices, but also cause deforestation as rain forests in countries such as Indonesia are cleared for plantation, threatening biodiversity and cancelling any benefit in reducing greenhouse gases.
But President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva launched a fierce defense of Brazil’s booming sugar cane-based ethanol industry.
“We must clear away smokescreens raised by powerful lobbies who try to blame ethanol production for the recent inflation in food prices,” he said.
“It offends me to see fingers pointed against clean energy from biofuels, fingers soiled with oil and coal.”