Part of the grain production feeds cars, not people. A heresy while the shortage awaits because of the Ukrainian crisis, denounces the NGO Transport & Environment in a study published Thursday. “The vast majority of biofuels [aussi appelés agrocarburants, ndlr] used in the European Union comes from food crops’she denounces, judging these practices “irresponsible”. According to her, 78% of the raw materials used to produce biodiesel are indeed oils obtained from rapeseed, palm, soy and sunflower. For bio-ethanol, the proportion of agricultural products (corn, wheat, beets, etc.) is even higher: 96%.
“The equivalent of 15 million loaves of bread”
Sales of bioethanol (E85), a cheap automotive fuel where pure alcohol largely replaces gasoline, grew strongly in France in 2021, but its environmental benefits remain disputed. “Despite the imminent risk of food shortages, which could push hundreds of millions of people into food poverty, Europe continues to process 10,000 tonnes of wheat – the equivalent of 15 million loaves of bread (750 grams) – in ethanol every day, for everyday use in cars”chokes the NGO.
“Russia and Ukraine are key suppliers of staple foods in the world. Together, they supply around a quarter of the wheat and barley, 15% of the corn and more than 60% of the sunflower oil sold in the world., recalls the organization. While Europe is almost self-sufficient in wheat, it imports some 22% of the maize it consumes, largely from Ukraine. If Europe will be able to manage the missing supplies traditionally coming from Ukraine and Russia, “some less economically strong countries may not be able to do it”given the surge in prices, underlines the NGO.
Egypt, which imports more than 60% of its wheat needs, recently announced that it would halt its own wheat and flour exports for three months, “which will hit other countries in Africa, especially Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen”. The Russian invasion of Ukraine could also jeopardize the food security of Lebanon, which is highly dependent on imports.
“Stop using food production for energy production”
Along with a dozen other NGOs, Transport & Environment is calling “national governments to immediately halt the use of feedstocks from food and feed crops in biofuels”and the European Commission to “refrain from lobbying to open biodiversity designated areas for food production”, before exhausting other options. The EU has indeed decided to temporarily suspend fallowing to free up fertile land, produce more and thus compensate for the production losses caused by the war in Ukraine.
Several other NGOs, such as Greenpeace, scientists or the Confédération paysanne make the same observation as Transport & Environnement. “The urgent solution is to stop using food production for energy production (agrofuel, methanization)observed the agricultural union in a press release on Wednesday. In France, this would immediately release up to 5% of agricultural land for food production, against an uncertain potential of 2% for fallow land.
Inequalities in distribution
For many experts, producing more is not a good idea. Better allocating already existing production, better distributing it, reviewing our consumption and avoiding waste seems more relevant. “Global food insecurity is not caused by a shortage of food supply. It is caused by an inequality in distribution. There is more than enough food to feed the world even now during this war. However, cereals are used for animal feed or as biofuels or wasted instead of feeding hungry people.recalled Monday Sabine Gabrysch of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), one of the co-authors of a call from scientists to change our habits.