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Barroso orders study on biofuels/food link

The Commission president José Manuel Barroso has ordered a study into possible links between biofuels and the recent rapid rises in the prices of food. The study is the latest move in growing doubts about the harmful side-effects of biofuels.

Despite growing pressure from development and environmental organisations that biofuels can in some cases be worse for climate change than conventional fuels, and they can lead to food shortages in poorer countries, Barroso has stuck firmly to the EU’s plan to insist that 10% of the European transport fuels should come from biomass by 2020. In this context, his call for a new study has been seen by some as a weakening of his position.
‘I have personally asked for a study on all aspects,’ Barroso said after a meeting with the Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme, ‘the impacts on prices, the impact on agriculture, the impact on development – all the aspects.’

His spokesman insisted he was not considering changing the 10% target and may not even publish the results of his study. But Leterme seemed to suggest differently when he said: ‘We must have the courage to re-examine our [biofuels] objectives.’

The latest criticism of the 10% target has come from the European Environment Agency and the World Bank. The EEA’s scientific committee last month called for the 10% quota to be suspended, saying it is an ‘overambitious experiment whose unintended effects are difficult to predict and difficult to control.’

FILLING STOMACHS
The World Bank president Robert Zoellick said: ‘While many are worrying about filling their tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs, and it is getting more difficult every day.’

Other calls for the 10% target to be reviewed have come in the last month from the MEPs looking after the renewables and fuel quality directives, the city network ‘Climate Alliance’, and the British prime minister Gordon Brown.

A new industry group set up and funded by the Commission is reported to be pressing for a 25% EU target for biofuel use. The European Biofuel Technology Platform, which is made up of representatives from industry and research institutes, has taken over a 25% target from an earlier biofuels research council.

• Sales of the first-generation biofuel E85 (85% ethanol, 15% petrol) have dropped in France. In November 2006 the French government set ambitious targets for the spread of E85, but only 3500 vehicles that can run on E85 have been registered.