The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) says it is satisfied with a report finding that biofuels from crops do not harm fuel supplies. The report, Reconciling food security and bioenergy: priorities for action, was funded by the Energy Department, the World Bank and other groups, and recently published in the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy. “This report should end the debate with those that continue to perpetuate the outdated and inaccurate ‘food versus fuel’ myth. There is clearly more than enough corn to feed and fuel the world,” says RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen.
The expansion of ethanol production in the U.S. and Brazil occurring in tandem with a global price spike in food and commodities in 2007-2008 led many to argue that a causal relationship exists between biofuels expansion and food insecurity. The report, however, says there are problems with that claim.
The researchers say that many studies attribute the food price spikes in 2008 primarily to other factors, such as oil prices, economic growth, currency exchange rates and trade policies. Speculation in food commodities also contributed to price spikes in 2008 and 2011, the researchers say, and correlations did not persist as global biofuel consumption continued to grow and cereal prices fell or showed distinct patterns over the last six years, driven by oil price, national agricultural policies and exchange rates.
The report notes that while drought in the U.S. in 2012 caused some ethanol plants to reduce output or temporarily shut, due in part to the ethanol “supply cushion” and market flexibility, there was not a notable jump in commodity prices as the 2012-2013 crop was harvested, despite the drought affecting 80 percent of U.S. agricultural land.
“These findings reflect what many in the academic community and biofuels sector have been saying for some time – there is no meaningful relationship between growth in biofuels production and food security or food prices,” says Dinneen. “U.S. farmers have produced the three largest corn crops in history in the last three years and global grain supplies are at record levels. More grain is available for food and feed use globally today than ever before. Further, one-third of every bushel of grain that enters the ethanol process is enhanced and returned to the feed market in the form of protein-rich distillers grains.”
The report concludes that “bioenergy can contribute to improved food security through production systems designed to increase adaptability and resilience of human populations at risk and to reduce context-specific vulnerabilities that could limit access to local staples and required nutrients in times of crisis.”