BRUSSELS (AFP) — The EU Commission on Monday rejected claims that producing biofuels is a "crime against humanity" that threatens food supplies, and vowed to stick to its goals as part of a climate change package.
"There is no question for now of suspending the target fixed for biofuels," said Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
"You can't change a political objective without risking a debate on all the other objectives," which could see the EU landmark climate change and energy package disintegrate, an EU official said.
Their comments came amid growing unease over the planting of biofuel crops as food prices rocket and riots against poverty and hunger multiply worldwide.
UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food Jean Ziegler told German radio Monday that the production of biofuels is "a crime against humanity" because of its impact on global food prices.
EU leaders, seeking to show the way on global warming, have pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
As part of a package of measures the 27 member states have set a target of biofuels making up 10 percent of automobile fuel by the same year.
"We don't have an enormous danger of too much of a shift from food production to biofuels production," said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.
Mann, like Helfferich speaking to reporters in Brussels, stressed that the 10 percent target would in part be achieved through higher yields and increased production.
Ziegler also accused the European Union of subsidising its agriculture exports with effect of undermining production in Africa.
"The EU finances the exports of European agricultural surpluses to Africa ... where they are offered at one half or one third of their (production) price," the UN official charged.
"That completely ruins African agriculture," he added.
In recent months, rising food costs have sparked violent protests in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mauritania, the Philippines and other countries.
In Pakistan and Thailand, troops have been deployed to avoid the seizure of food from fields and warehouses, while price increases fuelled a general strike in Burkina Faso.
The European Environment Agency, advisors to the European Commission, on Friday recommended that the EU suspend its 10 percent biofuels target.
It argued that the target would require large amounts of additional imports of biofuels leading to the accelerated destruction of rain forests. The agency also questioned the environmental benefits of biofuels.
Also in a recent report the World Bank said bluntly "biofuel production has pushed up feedstock prices".
Meanhwile Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, head of Nestle, the world's biggest food and beverage company, last month argued that "to grant enormous subsidies for biofuel production is morally unacceptable and irresponsible".
"There will be nothing left to eat," he added.
European leaders are aware of the growing body of opinion opposed to biofuels but Dimas has stressed the use of "second generation" biofuels; including leaves, straw and pond algae.
The first generation of green fuels -- biodiesel and ethanol-- are made from wheat, maize, colza, sugar beet etc, also used for human and animal feed.
However, according to French Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the methods for utilising the second generation sources are far from complete.
"That will take 10 to 20 years," she told AFP.
The 27 EU nations are due on May 7 to approve strict criteria for the production of biofuels, according to the European Commission.
Speaking in Luxembourg on Monday French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, meeting with his EU counterparts, said that food production must be the priority.
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