Biofuels lobby ‘immoral’ over food crisis and Russian oil

March 31, 2022

Every day Europe turns 10,000 tonnes of wheat – the equivalent of 15 million loaves of bread – into ethanol for use in cars

T&E has accused the European biofuels lobby of “cynically taking advantage of people’s concerns over fuel prices” after it called for imports of Russian oil to be replaced by biofuels made from food crops. 

A new study by T&E provides evidence that crops are needed much more for food than fuel, and that using biofuels will exacerbate an already dire food crisis following war in the breadbasket of Europe. They would do little to replace boycotted oil supplies from Russia.

Regardless, Europe’s biofuels lobby (led by ePure and the European Biodiesel Board) has called for Russian oil to be replaced with biofuels made from waste and residues, but also crops like wheat, corn, barley, sunflower, rapeseed and other vegetable oils.

In an article co-written by the heads of ePure and the EBB, the lobby says it is “important for the EU to fully realise its goals of achieving energy and food independence by mobilising its entire bioenergy sector,” adding that “EU policymakers should be aware of the strategic contribution that domestically produced biofuels can make” to reducing EU reliance on imported energy.

Yet food prices are soaring following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, two countries critical to supplies of grain and vegetable oils. Ukraine and Russia together provide about a quarter of the globally traded wheat and barley, 15% of corn and over 60% of sunflower oil.

Last week, T&E brought out its study, Food not fuel: Why biofuels are a risk to food security, which shows how every day Europe turns 10,000 tonnes of wheat – the equivalent of 15 million loaves of bread based on a typical 750g loaf – into ethanol for use in cars. 

Removing wheat from European biofuels would offset more than 20% of the collapsed Ukrainian wheat supplies to the global market. In countries like Egypt, which imports over 60% of its wheat, mainly from Russia and Ukraine, these additional supplies to the market would be life saving. By contrast, even if Europe were to double the amount of farmland it dedicates to biofuels this would replace less than 7% of the EU’s imports of Russian oil.

T&E’s biofuels manager Maik Marahrens said: “What the biofuels lobby is doing is immoral. It’s clear that its sums don’t add up. When it steps up its lobbying efforts for more grains like wheat and corn to replace Russian oil, it is cynically taking advantage of people’s concerns over fuel prices, putting profit ahead of food security. And all this while millions of people around the world cannot afford a loaf of bread.”

Another victim of the lobbyists will be nature’s already fragile species. In its recent communication on food security, the European Commission announced an ‘implementing act’ enabling member states to allow farming in ‘ecological focus areas’. This includes areas set aside for biodiversity needs.  

In its social media activity, the biofuels lobby has tried to paint T&E’s opposition to biofuels from food crops as effectively arguing for imported fossil fuels from Russia. T&E has countered this by saying it is not an ‘either/or’ matter, and that Europe must wean itself off both importing oil and using food crops for biofuels. “Burning is the problem,” concluded Marahrens.

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