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Europe’s Thirst for Biofuels Spells Hunger for Millions, as Food Prices Shoot Up

WASHINGTON - Land used to power European cars with biofuels for one year could produce enough wheat and maize to feed 127 million people, Oxfam reveals ahead of today’s important EU Energy Ministers’ meeting.

With the world’s poorest at greater risk of hunger as a result of spiraling food prices, the international agency is calling on the EU to rethink its dangerous love affair with biofuels.

In a new GROW campaign report, The Hunger Grains, Oxfam warns that Europe’s growing appetite for biofuels is pushing up global food prices and driving people off their land, resulting in deeper hunger and malnutrition in poor countries.

In Europe, EU biofuel mandates could cost every adult about €30 each year by 2020. In 2008, about €3 billion were spent in tax exemptions and other incentives for biofuel production in the EU, comparable to the value of cuts agreed under the controversial Greek bail-out deal in February.

“Depriving millions of people of food, land and water”

The report comes out as European Energy Ministers meet in Cyprus to discuss Europe’s post 2020 renewable energy strategy. Current EU law requires 10% of transport energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, with almost all of it expected to come from biofuels made from food crops.


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“Europe has helped spark a global rush for biofuels that is forcing poor families from their homes, while big business piles up the profits. Biofuels were meant to make transport greener, but European governments are pouring consumers' money down the drain, whilst depriving millions of people of food, land and water,” said Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s EU Office.

“The current spike in global food prices is a loud alarm bell that should wake up EU Energy Ministers meeting today. It’s this simple: unless EU governments scrap their biofuel mandates, which will double biofuel consumption over the next few years, many more people will be plunged into poverty,” added Alonso.

Alternatives exist

Corn and soy prices reached record highs this summer, hitting poor people hardest as they can spend up to 75% of their income on food. By 2020, EU biofuel mandates alone could push up the price of some foods by as much as 36%. This would affect us all but would have a particularly severe impact on poor people who are already struggling to afford the food they need to survive.

Since 80% of EU biofuels is biodiesel, made mostly from rapeseed, soy and palm oil, EU mandates have a particular impact on the global price of vegetable oil and oilseeds. This drives up the retail price of cooking oil in importing countries such as Haiti and exporting countries such as Indonesia. The latter is one of the EU’s main sources of biodiesel. By 2020, Europe could require a fifth of all the vegetable oil produced globally to meet its demand for fuel.

“Europe’s biofuels policies are making climate change worse, not better, and poor people are paying the highest price. There are alternatives – getting governments to set efficiency standards for car manufacturers, create better transport systems and promote electric cars,” added Alonso.


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Oxfam International is a confederation of 13 like-minded organizations working together and with partners and allies around the world to bring about lasting change. Oxfam works directly with communities and that seeks to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.

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