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Biofuels will not conflict with food production

The European Union target for 10% of all transport fuel to be derived from biofuels by 2020 can be obtained without causing food shortages, according to a European Commission assessment.

The new 10% minimum target has attracted criticism for its potential to divert land into biofuels at the expense of the food industry. But the assessment, published by the EC’s agriculture department this week, says that if set-aside land was cultivated and second generation biofuel progresses, the target would not adversely affect food and feed markets. “The 10% scenario does not overly stretch land availability or lead to a significant increase in intensity of production”, says the study. The initial task to get set-aside land back into production already looks likely. European Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel recently proposed a temporary measure to scrap set-aside in response to a series of poor harvests.

Many in the industry are now asking for her to scrap set-aside permanently when the measure is discussed in the CAP review next year. The chairman of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, Neil Parish, said he would urge an end to the scheme. “I believe we can make this temporary measure permanent when we review the CAP next year. Food security and increased biofuel production must be our priorities,” he said. If set-aside was scrapped, it is estimated that EU farmers could produce an additional quantity of up to 17 million tons of cereals a year. Apart from the use of set-aside, for the 10% target to be met without impacting on animal and human food chains the EC assumes the continued development of second generation biofuel.

Second generation technology converts biomass to liquid using whole crops or wood to provide a more efficient renewable energy. “Energy yields per hectare of cereals would increase by 30-40% if the straw and the grain (wholecrop) would be used. One of the highest yielding energy crops is maize if the whole plant is used. Thus less area is needed to produce the same amount of energy”, adds the EC study. Second generation fuel could also have a smaller carbon footprint because the same amount of fertilizers will remain the same for a higher output. If the targets are met, as predicted, by 2020 biofuel production would account for 15% of total arable land compared to 3% last year. (