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With food inflation at the highest value in 20 years, it is important that the government finds a way to bring down costs and increase food security in the UK, and Boris Johnson has proposed a cut to biofuel production as the solution.
According to the prime minister, the process of growing grains for biofuel is contributing to increased prices of food as the world struggles to adapt without its biggest exporters of wheat, Russia and Ukraine.
The case for a cut to biofuels
Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea has driven up global food prices, and aid charities have warned that it has placed 47 million people around the world on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, in addition to soaring prices and a risk of shortages in the UK.
The think tank Green Alliance has said that Johnson’s plan to pause biofuel production in the UK would free up food for 3.5 million people, reducing food prices in turn as more crops are available for human consumption.
Soil Association Certification agreed, as Gareth Morgan, head of farming policy added, “We don’t know if it’s a certainty that changing land use from biofuel to food production will tackle the cost-of-living crisis, but experts have shown that halving the amount of biofuel land used in the US and Europe, and putting this into producing food, could replace the lost cereal and oilseed crops due to the war in Ukraine.”
However, at the G7 conference this week, Biden blocked the plan in a bid to protect the lucrative US market for ethanol and biodiesels and the country’s climate change commitments.
Does Biden have a point, or could a temporary halt on biofuel help to ease the cost-of-living crisis?
Maintaining climate commitments
Whilst environmental groups support Johnson’s plans, there is concern that it could be a sign of sustainability and climate commitments sliding onto the backburner, as Biden suggests.
James Woodward, sustainable farming officer at Sustain, told Speciality Food, “We hope the UK Government does not abandon sustainability and environmental outcomes in the name of food productivity. There is now a substantial evidence base that shows with the right farming practices and systems in place like agroecology, farming can be productive in terms of food, while delivering positive soil, climate, nature and water outcomes.”
Gareth added, “We reject any suggestion that there is a trade-off between food security and environmental resilience – in reality, they are two sides of the same coin.
“We must feed the population and restore climate, nature and public health all at the same time – and to do that we need government intervention to help people to eat healthy diets. If we reduced intensive pig and chicken production in Europe by just 15%, the reduction in grain needed for animal feed would cancel out the shortfall in grain resulting from the war in Ukraine.
“We need a less but better approach to meat and dairy consumption, with more fruit, vegetables and pulses grown and eaten in the UK.”
The global footprint of biofuel
Environmental groups also argue that using land to produce biofuel will not necessarily deliver the cuts in emissions that the planet needs, and therefore ensuring the world has access to food is more important.
Gareth explained, “Biofuel is a false solution and is unlikely to make a real contribution to tackling climate change.
“We welcome the prime minister’s belated recognition that diverting grain to liquid biofuels means diverting productive land away from the vital role of producing important human food supplies. Investment in renewable energy, tree planting and regenerating soils that can lock in carbon are much more effective long-term climate solutions.”
James added, “At the global scale, we should be looking at how to better use land, such as agroecologically producing healthy food or doing more effective measures to restore nature and tackle the climate crisis.
“About 2% of UK land is used to produce biofuel, but we also import biofuel, which contributes to that global footprint. The concern is the direction of travel, with more UK and global land set to come into biofuel production.
“This could hamper the UK and others’ ability to become carbon negative, as well as using land that could be used for better purposes.”