21-Feb-2008 - Europe must scrap its biofuel targets to combat the upward spiral of food prices, say green campaigners, discarding claiming that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the answer.
The increase in raw material costs has given GMO advocates the opportunity to argue its benefits, alleging increased yields and reduced pesticide use.
'The vultures have landed on the food prices issue,' Clare Oxborrow, Friends of the Earth GM campaigner, told FoodNavigator.com.
'They say GM crops will feed the world, with increased yields meaning increased income. But there is no evidence that genetic modification will benefit yields.'
FoodNavigator.com reported yesterday on this week's National Farmer's Union (NFU) Conference, where Iain Ferguson, chief executive of Tate & Lyle, said British food prices are rising at their fastest rate since records began.
He quoted the Daily Telegraph as saying food prices in the UK are fuelling a rise in the average family's annual shopping bill of GBP750.
The food industry has already experienced massive price hikes for raw materials across the board, which have been blamed on poor weather affecting stock and production, and high fuel costs - both biofuels and oil.
Ferguson said the answer for this growing problem is fostering scientific debate on the application of genetic modification, which can increase yields and cut costs.
However, Friends of the Earth says a better way to eliminate one of the causes by cutting back on biofuels.
Europe currently has targets to expand the use of biofuels, gas fuel derived from biomass, to 10 per cent.
Oxborrow said: 'We are calling on the EU to scrap its targets for biofuels which are driving up food prices and damaging the environment. And governments around the world must urgently invest in sustainable farming methods which meet local environmental and social needs'.
She said the targets are one of the main reasons for the increase in price hikes, as farmers have stopped cultivating crops such as soy to fill their fields with biofuel products. This means less crops and feed on the market, creating shortages and pushing up prices.
'Although food prices have always fluctuated, the recent squeeze has been kick started by biofuels,' said Oxborrow.
Biofuels were meant to be the greener alternative, but in fact, Friends of the Earth said they are having a detrimental effect on the environment
For example, in November, it emerged that major food companies are contributing to increased carbon emissions through the destruction of Indonesia's peat swamp forests to produce palm oil to use as a greener alternative to conventional petrol and diesel.
Last month, an unpublished report by the EU's Joint Research Council, called 'Biofuels in the European Context' was leaked.
It raised questions over the true benefit of biofuels on the environment, claiming that biofuel targets may actually yield no greenhouse gas savings. It also said it may be more efficient to focus on other renewable energies, such as biomass for heat and power generation.
Other strategies Friends of the Earth has suggested for combating price hikes are:
Help the EU livestock industry to source GM free animal feed Support countries such Argentina and Brazil to establish assessment procedures comparable to international guidelines and the EU's own standards Develop strict traceability and liability systems whereby the biotech company pays and not the livestock importer, farmer or consumer
GM not the answer
At the NFU Conference and in a report issued by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) earlier this month, claims were made that GM crops can increase yield.
Friends of the Earth argues the opposite. It said first generation genetic modification addresses production conditions and has not been modified to increase yield.
It backed up its argument with a 2003 report published in Science, which states that 'in the United States and Argentina, average yield effects [of GM crops] are negligible and in some cases even slightly negative.'
'GM crops often need more pesticides, provide lower yields and cause widespread contamination,' said Oxborrow.