Wednesday, June 15, 2011
It is one of the most hotly debated environmental topics of the year — whether the drive to produce alternative so-called green fuels will take food from the mouths of the hungry.
Is it ethical to burn food while people starve?
For environmental groups like Friends of the Earth, it's a no brainer.
"If you start to fuel cars with crops," says Ed Matthew, "you are instantly putting the world's one billion starving people in competition with the world's one billion motorists. It's as simple as that."
Green groups and aid agencies cite biofuels as forming part of the "perfect storm" of poor harvests, rising oil prices and a surge in demand for food from China and India that are all pushing up the price of everything from pasta to a loaf of bread.
In fact, the first flashpoint in the food versus fuel conflict has already happened.
Mexican anger at more expensive corn flour led to the so called "tortilla riots" at the beginning of the year.
The price rises were attributed to the United States' large-scale switch from food to fuel production, meaning less maize exported to its southern neighbour.
However, a look at the bigger picture reveals that an apparent straight case of fuel taking precedence over food is misleading.
For years, Mexican dependency on cheap American corn had ruined the Mexican maize business and millions of farmers had left the land.
Now Mexicans are starting to grow maize again. It is a slow process, but it will start to reduce their dependency on the north.
And this is a key part of the debate, according to the UK National Farmers Union's biofuels advisor Jonathan Scurlock.
He thinks that greater demand for food and fuel could help galvanise agriculture in developing countries, which for many years have had their farming industries crushed by cheap imports.