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April 05, 2008 11:40PM
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/apr/05/food.biofuels

Crop switch worsens global food price crisis

Two years ago the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation expected biofuels to help eradicate hunger and poverty for up to two billion people. Yesterday the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon raised real doubt over that policy amid signs that the world was facing its worst food crisis in a generation.

Since the FAO's report in April 2006 tens of thousands of farmers have switched from food to fuel production to reduce US dependence on foreign oil. Spurred by generous subsidies and an EU commitment to increase the use of biofuels to counter climate change, at least 8m hectares (20m acres) of maize, wheat, soya and other crops which once provided animal feed and food have been taken out of production in the US.

In addition, large areas of Brazil, Argentina, Canada and eastern Europe are diverting sugar cane, palm oil and soybean crops to biofuels. The result, exacerbated by energy price rises, speculation and shortages because of severe weather, has been big increases of all global food commodity prices.

Lester Brown, director of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, said yesterday that land turned to biofuels in the US alone in the last two years would have fed nearly 250 million people with average grain needs. "This year 18% of all US grain production will go to biofuels. In the last two years the US has diverted 60m tonnes of food to fuel. On the heels of seven years of consumption of world grains exceeding supply, this has put a great strain on the world's grain supplies," he said.

Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, said this week that prices of all staple food had risen 80% in three years, and that 33 countries faced unrest because of the price rises...............

.................Last month the UK's chief scientist and food expert, Professor John Beddington, said the prospect of food shortages over the next 20 years was so acute that politicians, scientists and farmers must tackle it immediately. "Climate change is a real issue and is rightly being dealt with by major global investment. However, I am concerned there is another major issue along a similar time-scale, an elephant in the room - that of food and energy security."
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