Friends of the Earth and Searchinger still wrong about biofuels

By The Global Renewable Fuels Alliance | July 12, 2013

Today the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance slammed a new study by Friends of the Earth for its glaring omissions and use of a controversial theory on land use impacts of biofuels. The report, Understanding the Biofuel Trade-offs between Indirect land use change (ILUC), Hunger and Poverty, authored by Timothy Searchinger, relies on the unproven theory of indirect land use change and is silent on some of the underlying causes of global hunger when attempting to make a connection between biofuels production and food security.

Searchinger’s theory of ILUC, which he first wrote about in 2008, attempts to predict future land use patterns globally that might result from the increased production of biofuels. This theory has since been disproven by an overwhelming number of scientists and academics that have discredited the methodology and its outcomes.

“ILUC has proven to be faulty because modeling relies on hundreds of assumptions, not facts, to predict future land use patterns around the world,” stated Bliss Baker, spokesperson for the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance. “There is an abundance of evidence that shows ILUC to have no ability to accurately predict future land use patterns and that Searchinger was wrong.”

Back in 2008 Searchinger stated, “Higher (crop) prices triggered by biofuels will accelerate forest and grassland conversion [in Latin America] even if surplus croplands exist elsewhere.” This has been proven to be completely false by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which found that deforestation rates are at their lowest since tracking began in 1988. In 2012, deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon amounted to 1,798 square miles—down 27 percent from 2011 and less than one-fifth of the deforestation rates seen a decade ago. In that same time period global ethanol production has more than doubled.

“When attempting to draw a link between biofuels production and hunger, Mr. Searchinger conveniently ignores the fact that the world produces twice as much food as is consumed. It is well understood that food security and hunger are directly related to poverty, accessibility, and a lack of investment in agriculture to name a few of the underlying issues,” stated Baker.

A recent study, Global Food – Waste Not, Want Not, by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) found that half of all global food, 1 to 2 billion tons, goes to waste before reaching peoples stomachs each year. According to the IMechE study, food is wasted at every point in the supply chain, including: poor harvesting practices, storage, transportation, market waste and consumer waste. In developing countries, waste occurs mostly at the farmer-producer end of the supply chain and moves up the chain the more developed the country. In developed countries, grocery stores often reject produce because it does not meet certain appearance standards.

“The primary challenge of food security is not how much food we grow but how efficiently we grow it, distribute it and how much of it we waste. It is well understood that global food production far exceeds our needs today and the scale of food waste worldwide is unacceptably high. We must take this problem seriously,” said Baker.

It is widely accepted that the price of crude oil is the largest component in the cost of our food because it affects every stage of food production. From farm to table, oil price spikes can increase the cost of fertilizer, inflate the cost of packaging and raise the cost of transportation. This translates to crude oil prices having a disproportionate affect on food prices where the price of food rises with the price of oil.

“We frankly would have expected a more rigorous and credible report coming from Friends of the Earth,” said Baker. “If Mr. Searchinger and Friends of the Earth were really concerned about poverty, they would place greater importance and focus on the price of oil, which has always had the greatest impact on the price of food.”

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