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The human cost of the global biofuel switch was put in stark terms today by international advocacy group Oxfam, which released a report saying biofuels are responsible for pushing 30 million people into poverty (International Herald Tribune, Reuters and BBC coverage). The widely noted report asserts that the increasing use of grains as biofuel feedstocks is responsible for 30 percent of the increase in food prices, and that’s hitting the world’s poorest hard.
The report, written by Oxfam biofuel policy adviser Rob Bailey, urges developed nations to abandon their biofuel mandates and get rid of the subsidies and tariffs on biofuels that are destroying the ability of the market to appropriately adjust biofuel and food supply and demand. These economic hurdles have lead to an all-time low in grain reserves, the report says, and pushed food prices to record highs.
The report goes beyond the humanitarian consequences and puts numbers to the environmental boondoggle that is the current biofuel economy. Oxfam estimates that land-use changes largely from the palm oil plantations that have popped up around the world’s equator, are emitting a huge amount of CO2, and it will take 46 years of projected 2020-level biofuel use to make up a “carbon debt.”
Oxfam is just the latest in a series of international bodies that are calling for restructuring of the global biofuels market. UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, called the current biofuel industry a “crime against humanity” and said the misbegotten race to convert the world’s grain into fuel will cause more hunger. The Council on Foreign Relations says that Washington must step in and force diversification of biofuel feedstocks away from corn to prevent the poor of the world from starving. Critics in the United States and Washington insiders are calling for a scale back of the biofuels mandate.