EESI Testifies Before Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on Biofuels, Sustainability and Food Crisis Concerns
For Immediate Release:
WASHINGTON, DC- In testimony before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission) on May 6, Jetta Wong, Senior Policy Associate of the Sustainable Biomass and Energy Program at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), discussed the complexity involved in the rise in world food prices and how that relates to current biofuel production. Wong pointed out that although it is clear that the price of food is influenced by a number of factors, the fundamental cause is largely higher energy costs.
Wong noted that “because biofuels development has created a global market and brought a laser beam of attention to the relationship between energy, land use, and climate change, much of the media has jumped to point fingers at biofuels without doing due diligence on the issue.” Wong pointed out that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has stressed that “there is no single factor that can be identified as being the main one responsible…Nor is it possible to make a quantitative assessment of the contributions of the factors that have been influential on the increase in the price of food.”
Wong explained that a number of demand and supply factors are currently influencing world food prices, including production shortfalls due to weather-related events, diminishing commodity stock levels, soaring energy costs, changing demand due to new consumption patterns, speculation in financial markets, as well as the production of biofuels from agricultural commodities. According to an April 2008 study by Texas A&M University, “the underlying force driving changes in the agriculture industry, along with the economy as a whole, is overall higher energy costs.”
“It is critically important that sustainable biomass be considered a part of the strategy to not just reduce energy costs, which it is doing now, but also to revitalize agriculture, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and restore the United States as a world leader,” said Wong. She noted that these things can only be done if biomass is produced sustainably, encouraging the use of a wide variety of locally appropriate feedstocks, including agriculture residues, wood wastes, forest thinnings and other waste materials that do not induce a land use change, along with using sound production practices at the appropriate scale.
Wong made two suggestions to the Commission in addressing both the sustainability of biomass and the connections between fuel and food prices. First, she said the Commission should offer their support for increased research, demonstration, deployment, and commercialization of new sustainable biomass technologies, as well as a national biomass assessment to determine our resource base. Second, Wong suggested the United States assess how international trade and foreign policy influence food and fuel security and recommended that they consider a return to a supply management program or strategic grain reserve, much like the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Wong’s testimony emphasized that biofuels are just ONE part of a strategy, where more long term policies such as increased fuel efficiency, “smart-growth” practices, conservation and a variety of other technologies (like plug-in hybrids) will play a critical role. In the meantime, sustainable biofuels offer the only viable substitute to petroleum, as well as the only means to protect our energy supply in the face of uncertain politics and rising oil prices.
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute is a non-profit organization established in 1984 by a bipartisan, bicameral group of members of Congress to provide timely information on energy and environmental policy issues to policymakers and stakeholders and develop innovative policy solutions that set us on a cleaner, more secure and sustainable energy path.