Food price, ILUC studies released in run-up to EU biofuel vote

By Erin Voegele | September 05, 2013

Members of the European Parliament are set to vote on biofuel policy next week. In the lead-up to the vote, trade organizations representing both the ethanol and biodiesel industries have released studies disputing claims that biofuel production increases food prices and results in significant indirect land use change (ILUC) emissions.

According to information published by the European Parliament on Sept. 5, draft legal measures to cap traditional biofuel production and accelerate the switch to advanced biofuels will be debated on Sept. 9 and put to vote on Sept. 11. The notice specifies that the legal measures aim to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that result from the increased use of farmland to produce biofuel feedstocks. One proposal from the Environment Committee, drafted by Corinne Lepage, a MEP representing France, calls for a 5.5 percent cap on first-generation biofuels. The Environment Committee also wants new biofuels policy in the EU to include ILUC impacts. Alternatively, the Energy Committee is advocating for a 6.5 percent cap on first-generation biofuels, and is against including ILUC in the legislation.

On Sept. 3, the European Biodiesel Board released the results of a study on ILUC completed by the Air Improvement Resource Inc., (S&T)2 Consultants Inc. and the University of Illinois, Chicago. The study, titled “Land Use Change Greenhouse Gas Emissions of European Biofuel Policies Utilizing the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) Model,” reveals ILUC values of up to 95 percent lower than previous estimates. The EBB said the drop is due mainly to improved understanding of land use, crop yields and forest use in the E.U., Canada and the U.S.

Within the report, the authors assert that their analysis has determined that ILUC emission calculated using the latest version of GTAP—a model that is undergoing near constant revision—are much less than those calculated by International Food Policy Institute (IFPRI). The lower results are attributed to higher yields of new cropland than assumed by IRPRI and the fact that less forest land is converted.

“There is reason to believe that the indirect emissions could be even lower if GTAP was further enhanced to be able to more accurately reflect the availability of fallow land in the world and cropland pasture in more regions than just the United States and Brazil. The reduction in ILUC emissions could be significant with this enhancement,” said the authors in the report.

EBB Secretary General Raffaello Garofalo said the results of the study questions the validly of including ILUC science in policy making. “Policy makers can no longer deny the immaturity of science to serve for policy making,” he said.

ePURe, the European renewable ethanol association, released a different study on Sept. 5 pertaining to biofuels and food prices. The study, titled “Biofuels and food security: Risks and opportunities,” was completed by ECOFYS and demonstrates that ethanol is not causing food price increase. 

According to ePURE, the study examines the casualty between biofuel production, global crop commodity prices and implications for food security, with particular focus on poor regions of the world. The study determines biofuel demand in Europe through 2010 only increased world grain prices by 1-2 percent, and would only increase world grain prices by another 1 percent through 2020 if no cap is placed on first-generation biofuels. The study also stresses that because commodity prices are only a small component of actual food costs, and that local food markets are often disconnected from global markets, the actual impact of biofuel on food prices is far less than 1 percent.

"The study is a serious response to all the misunderstandings and confusions created around our industry and food prices. Renewable ethanol is not causing food price increases and capping production of biofuels will not address food security and hunger in the world. Multiple factors contribute to food prices and policy makers should distinguish between all the benefits that our industry provides to Europe, and the real causes of hunger in the world,” said. Rob Vierhout, secretary general of ePURE.