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Biofuel row at UN food meeting

The head of UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has called on world leaders to cough up $30 billion to avert future wars over food, at the UN food summit in Rome.

In a wide-ranging look at the world’s ills FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf pointed out that the world spends $1,200 billion on weapons and excess consumption by the obese is valued at $20 billion.

“Against that backdrop, how can we explain to people of good sense and good faith that it was not possible to find US$30 billion a year to enable 862 million hungry people to enjoy the most fundamental of human rights: the right to food and thus the right to life?” he said. “It is resources of this order of magnitude that would make it possible definitely to lay to rest the specter of conflicts over food that are looming on the horizon.”

Diouf also took aim at the world’s current favourite whipping boy: biofuels.

He said subsidies of $11-12 billion were used in 2006 to divert cereals from food supplies, “mostly to satisfy a thirst for fuels for vehicles”.

The Guardian says, “It was a thinly veiled attack. The FAO estimates US subsidies for the production of corn ethanol at $11-12bn.”

The paper also highlights a little numerical disagreement between US agriculture secretary Ed Schafer and the International Monetary Fund. While the former says biofuel production accounts for 2 or 3% of the recent spike in food prices the latter puts it at 20 to 30%, it says.

Egypt’s president demanded that the world use “agricultural crops as food for human beings, not as fuel for engines” (Globe and Mail). China called on people to stop playing the blame game (Xinhua).

Meanwhile, Reuters is warning that better biofuels are a ways away, citing an FAO report that says next-gen biofuels won’t be here in the next decade. Pah! says Schafer, they’ll be here in less than 10 years, although maybe more than five.


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