Food giant calls for curb on biofuels

Unilever has joined a group of global businesses calling for the abolition of mandatory biofuels targets and subsidies.

The international food group - responsible for brands including Peperami, Knorr and Bovril - is a member of the Commonwealth Business Council, which presented a paper on high food and energy prices to the Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting (CFMM) in Castries, St Lucia, this week.

The paper pointed out to ministers that: "There is an important nexus between food and energy policy, which has been brought to the fore particularly by policy decisions on biofuels targets and production."

It warned that the world will face more trade-offs between food and fuel in the future, despite evidence that biofuels produced from wheat, sugar beet or vegetable oil rarely produce emission savings of more than 60%.

As part of its recommendations to the ministers, the CBC said: "Governments should abolish the setting of mandatory targets for biofuels and the use of subsidies for the production of biofuels derived from food crops." It recommended that, instead, investment in more efficient alternative energy sources should be encouraged.

Unilever is the first major conglomerate to voice an opposition to biofuels, the production of which has been widely cited as responsible for the sudden increase in grain prices that decimated the UK farming industry and plunged an additional 75m people worldwide below the hunger threshold.

Projections based on the 2007 US Energy Independence and Security Act and the proposed EU Directive for Renewable Energy indicate that 13% of world coarse grain production and 20% of world vegetable production could shift to biofuel production in the next 10 years, rising from 8% and 9% in 2007, respectively. According to estimations, this projected increase in biofuel production would increase maize prices by 72% and oil seeds by a further 44% in coming years.