UN food agency regrets "crime against humanity" label on biofuels

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said an independent UN human rights expert's description of biofuel production as a "crime against humanity" was regrettable.

[Read this report in French]

Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on The Right to Food, said in a press briefing in New York on 26 October, "It is a crime against humanity to convert agriculturally productive soil into soil which produces foodstuffs that will be burned into [as] biofuel." He called for a five-year moratorium on biofuel production because the conversion of maize, wheat and sugar into fuels was driving up the prices of food, land and water.

The FAO, which has issued at least one report this year on how biofuel production has been causing food prices to rise, said, "We regret the report of the Special Rapporteur has taken a very complex issue, with many positive dimensions as well as negative ones, and characterised it as a 'crime against humanity'."

Speaking from Cuba on 1 November, Ziegler told IRIN, "I stand by what I said: biofuel production is a violation of the right to food." He has argued that biofuels will only lead to more hunger in a world where an estimated 854 million people - 1 out of 6 - already have too little to eat.

Citing FAO figures showing that the world already produced enough food to feed everyone, and could feed 12 billion people - double the current world population - Ziegler told journalists that the 232kg of maize needed to produce 50 litres of ethanol could feed a child in Mexico or Zambia for a year.

Jeff Tschirley, head of the FAO's Environment Assessment and Management Unit, said, "FAO strongly feels that food security and environmental considerations must be fully addressed before making investments or policy decisions, and we are actively working to ensure this happens.

"However, a moratorium that ignores the potential of biofuels to support rural development and assist the economies of developing countries would not, in our view, be a constructive approach to this topic."

The FAO recently launched a project to help policy-makers assess the potential effects of bioenergy production on food security in developing countries.

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