At the UN Food and Agriculture Food Organization (FAO) summit that concluded today in Rome, Brazilian President Lula da Silva said the US is full of bad cholesterol. Defending his nation’s ethanol production against arguments that biofuels are causing deforestation and worsening the global food crisis, Lula said that the real problems are agro-subsidies and food crop-based biofuels. He compared ethanol to cholesterol in a speech last night to the FAO Committee, saying, “There is good ethanol and bad ethanol. Good ethanol helps clean up the planet and is competitive. Bad ethanol comes with the fat of subsidies.”
Citing that sugar-based ethanol yields 8.3 times more energy than the fossil energy used to produce it whereas corn-based yields only 1.5 times, Lula’s comments no doubt are colored by the recently passed Farm Bill, which was initially vetoed by President Bush and then overturned by Congress with a 2/3 majority in May and is argued to benefit mainly the richest agro-producers.
Ethanol and biofuels came under fire this week at the FAO summit, which convened delegates from across the world to create political momentum and find ways to tackle growing food prices, especially in developing and impoverished nations. According to the FAO, “An estimated 850 million people in the world today suffer from hunger. Of those, about 820 million live in developing countries, the very countries expected to be most affected by climate change.” The closing declaration that was passed by the committee cited these numbers as “unacceptable,” according to BBC.co.uk. In addition, the FAO also hinted at establishing international standards to ensure biofuels are not produced at the expense of the world’s hungry, and concluded that “in-depth studies are necessary to ensure that production and use of biofuels is sustainable.” The argument is that ethanol production takes up an exorbitant amount of resources and land to produce biofuels, robbing the poor and hungry those resources to be devoted to food production.
The “unacceptability” of the type of global hunger we are facing today is something that Lula would agree with. Regarded as being one of the figureheads of leftist governance in Latin American, to many Lula is a man of the people, and even entered his current presidential term vowing to tackle hunger – both domestically and internationally. However, for him, solving this problem does not come at the expense, but at the aid of biofuels.
Distancing himself again from the corn-based type of ethanol produced in the US, he defended in his speech: “sugar-cane ethanol in Brazil is not a threat to the Amazon, it does not take land out of food production, nor does it take food off the tables of Brazilians or other peoples in the world.” Noting (using USDA facts on Brazil) that currently only 1% of arable land in Brazil is being used to develop sugar-cane ethanol, and of that 1%, only 0.3% of Brazil’s sugarcane plantations are in the northern region, where much of the deforestation is occurring, he claimed that ethanol could actually help bring rising food prices down with its more efficient production chain and cheaper costs compared to fossil-based oils. He also went on to claim that conditions in many Latin American, Caribbean, African, and Asian countries are similar to Brazil’s; and through cooperation, technology transfer, and open markets, a “Golden Revolution” could benefit countries around the world.
Nonetheless, the committee members at the FAO summit failed to see eye and eye, and the final summit declaration stalled to ratify at the protest of several Latin American delegations. Sue Kedgley, a Green Party Minister of Parliament from New Zealand, told the BBC that discussions went back and forth day and night yesterday. Argentina’s delegation cited vague wording, but in large part, the conflict was over the issue of ethanol.
The US delegation took a very diplomatic approach, saying that no agreement was better than a “bad’ agreement, though at the same expressed optimism about the money and efforts that could result from the summit.
As a result of the disagreements, in the eyes of people like Guardian UK Environment blogger, Julian Borger, the committee eventually pulled its punch with its summit declaration in an attempt to reach an agreement. Critics claim that the protesting South American countries like Brazil and Argentina, whose GDPs rely heavily on exports, are attempting to create trade agreements using this summit. MP Kedgley went on to say, “The declaration seems to be bogged down. Argentina wants the ability to impose its own trade restrictions…” Even Lula’s own reference to “open markets” in his speech could be evidence of that. The result of the summit’s “ducking” of issues, some argue, could lead to more rioting and conflicts over food conditions around the world in the days to come.