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100 million to go hungry to drive Europe’s cars

In a federal budget filled with mind-boggling statistics, two numbers stand out as particularly stunning, for the way they may change American politics and American power.

world Updated: Feb 17, 2010 01:21 IST
John Vidal (The Guardian)

In a federal budget filled with mind-boggling statistics, two numbers stand out as particularly stunning, for the way they may change American politics and American power.

EU companies have taken millions of acres of land out of food production in Africa, central America and Asia to grow biofuels for transport, according to development campaigners.

The consequences of European biofuel targets, said the report by ActionAid, could be up to 100 million more hungry people, increased food prices and landlessness.

The report says the 2008 decision by EU countries to obtain 10 per cent of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2020 is proving disastrous for poor countries. Developing countries are expected to grow nearly two-thirds of the jatropha, sugar cane and palm oil crops that are mostly used for biofuels.

“To meet the EU 10 per cent target, the total land area directly required to grow industrial biofuels in developing countries could reach 17.5m hectares, over half the size of Italy. Additional land will also be required in developed nations, displacing food and animal feed crops onto land in new areas, often in developing countries,” says the report.

Biofuels are estimated by the IMF to have been responsible for 20-30 per cent of the global food price spike in 2008 when 125m tonnes of cereals were diverted into biofuel production. The amount of biofuels in Europe’s car fuels is expected to quadruple in the next decade.

The report attributes the massive growth in biofuel production to generous subsidies.

It estimates that the EU biofuel industry has already received €4.4 bn in incentives, subsidies and tax relief and that this could triple to over €13.7 bn if the EU meets its 2020 target.

“Biofuels are driving a global human tragedy. Local food prices have already risen massively. As biofuel production gains pace, this can only accelerate,” said report author Tim Rice. He added that biofuels are not even an answer to climate change: “Most biofuels are worse than the fossil fuels they are supposed to replace.”

Large scale biofuel plantations can increase carbon dioxide emissions, either directly by cutting down forests or ploughing up other carbon rich habitats, or indirectly by forcing farmers to move into these areas.