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Trócaire highlights damage of EU biofuel policies

By Ann Marie Foley - 05 September, 2013

biofuel-signTrócaire is urging the public to contact their MEPs in advance a crucial European Parliament vote on biofuels on 10 September.

The EU previously set a target of 10% of European transport fuel to be derived from biofuels but it is hoped the vote will bring this down to 5%.

“A policy which initially was seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels is having a disastrous effect on people in the developing world. In many cases harmful green house gas emissions from biofuels are worse than those from fossil fuels,” according to Joanne McGarry, Trócaire Campaigns Officer.

By 2020, EU biofuels policies could be responsible for increases in oilseed prices of up to 20%, in vegetable oil prices up to 36%, maize prices by as much as 22%, sugar prices by a possible 21% and wheat prices by as much as 13%.

Trócaire has published these *projections as part of its ‘Food Not Fuel campaign’ which highlights that people are going hungry because crops are being used to fill petrol tanks instead of feeding families.

Crops like wheat, corn and sugar cane are mixed with petrol and diesel to fuel cars. The European Commission has recognised that this biofuel policy is flawed and is proposing a reduction but according to Trócaire the Committees in the European Parliament have been voting to weaken the EC’s 5% proposal.

“It’s going to be a close battle so we must let our MEPs know that this already weak proposal cannot be weakened further,” Joanne McGarry warned.

In June, almost 1,000 Trócaire supporters lobbied Pat Rabbitte, Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, to call for a ban on the use of all food-based biofuels. He formally raised those concerns at the Council of Ministers meeting he attended in Luxembourg.

Now the issue is coming to a vote and Trócaire is highlighting the damage that the policy is doing.

Communities are being forced off their land to make way for biofuels. In March 2011, over 800 indigenous families were evicted off land in the Polochic Valley region of Guatemala. These are Mayan families who for centuries have experienced discrimination and violence by the elite families who run Guatemala.

In July of this year, a survey of the evicted families revealed they are still living in terrible conditions two years after that eviction. 94% of families said they have had food shortages on occasions.

600531_10151404104769536_1825617178_aLess than half of households consume three basic meals a day. Less than one third of the families have land for food cultivation. Families are suffering restrictions, often imposed by private companies, on access to water. 

Trócaire’s policy paper: Biofuels: Fuelling Poverty and Environmental Degradation highlights the fact that in less than a single decade, world biofuel production has increased five times, from less than 20 billion litres a year in 2001 to over 100 billion litres a year in 2011.

The report explains that policies which drive greater demand for biofuels create incentives to reallocate resources such as land and water from food to fuel production.

Production systems have altered in response to policy incentives within the EU but also beyond the EU through the outsourcing of food/fuel.

The UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report (2012), drew attention to how biofuels policies are leading to resources being taken by the authorities and the rich. 

This leads to greater concentration in ownership and alienation for vulnerable groups from traditional means of survival.

The redesignation of food crops as fuel crops has also linked food prices with oil prices. Modelling the impact of the EU’s mandates on food prices suggests that by 2020 EU biofuels policies could be responsible for increases many basic foodstuffs resulting volatility and prices which poor people cannot afford.

Trócaire is urging people to contact their MEPs to highlight the issue and to urge them to support the reduction in biofuel targets. 

*Projections in Trócaire’s policy paper: Biofuels: Fuelling Poverty and Environmental Degradation

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