Biodiesel benefits food supply

By | May 14, 2008
U.S. sales of biodiesel tripled in 2006 and doubled again in 2007. Soybean oil has historically been the primary biodiesel feedstock, with other edible oilseeds, such as sunflower and canola, in the mix. Recently it has become apparent to most in the biodiesel industry that the media thinks biofuels, which includes biodiesel, is negatively affecting food availability.

The combination of rising energy costs, increased global food demand and the weak U.S. dollar are the main causes of rising food prices. It is important to note that U.S. biodiesel production is not a significant factor. In fact, in 2007, only 12 percent of U.S. soybean production and 4 percent of global soybean production was used by the U.S. biodiesel industry to produce fuel. From the soybeans used to produce biodiesel, 81 percent of the soybean's yield is protein that enters the market for either human consumption or animal feed. Technological advances are certain to increase soybean yields from existing acreage in the future.

Much of the edible feedstock used for biodiesel provides protein meal in addition to oil. Several comprehensive economic studies evaluating biodiesel have been conducted in the past few years. All had similar conclusions: Greater use of fats and oils for biodiesel production increases the value that farmers receive for their crops, while making protein meal less expensive.

In the case of soybeans, 80 percent of the soybean is protein meal and 20 percent oil. Higher demand for the oil could lead to lower-cost protein meal for human and livestock consumption. According to the University of Missouri Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, rising use of soybean oil to produce biodiesel has already increased the availability of protein meal. In addition, the institute projects U.S. consumption of soybean meal and exports to increase, with the price of soybean meal dropping substantially.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization has said that a growing biofuel market offers new opportunities for small farmers around the world. The FAO calls for a plan to develop bioenergy polices ensuring "that everybody benefits," and has recommended small-scale financing to help farmers in poor countries produce local biofuel. Biodiesel can help developing countries and the United States increase the availability of low-cost protein meal while decreasing reliance on petroleum.

The U.S. biodiesel industry is furthering feedstock development with non-edible sources and by adding yield to existing oilseed crops as agriculture technology continues to develop as it has consistently. The industry is also researching ways to add more oil content in feedstocks such as soybeans and more.

Biodiesel is a rising tide lifting many ships by adding emissions-reducing renewable fuel supply, and by increasing protein while lowering its cost. When best practices are employed, biodiesel provides benefits in food availability, reduction of greenhouse gasses, energy security and building local economies.
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