The future availability of biofuels has been thrown into doubt after the publication of an independent review of the Government’s biofuel plans.
The review found that the Government’s target that 10% of all transport fuels must be biofuel by 2012 is too ambitious and needs to be revised down.
There has a massive backlash against biofuel, with charities and NCOs accusing producers of destroying rain forests to grow the biofuel crops as well as switching production from food to fuel crops.
Campaigners such as Friends of the Earth say that this has, in part, led to the surge in world food prices.
Now the Renewable Fuels Agency's review into the indirect effects of biofuel production, which was led by Professor Ed Gallagher, has said the Government must slow the introduction of biofuels until effective controls are in place to prevent land use change and higher food prices.
However, it also found that there is a future for a sustainable biofuels industry but creating the right policy framework is “challenging and will take time”.
The report warned that current policies, if left unchecked, “will reduce biodiversity and may even cause greenhouse gas emissions rather than savings”.
It also said that the increasing demand for biofuels contributes to rising prices for some food commodities, notably oil seeds, which is having “detrimental effect on the poor”.
It recommends that while there is a place for biofuels, production must target idle and marginal land, and the use of wastes and residues.
This will avoid indirect land use change and reduce competition with food, it said.
Professor Gallagher said: “Our review makes clear that the risks of negative impacts from biofuels are real and significant, but it also lays out a path for a truly sustainable biofuels industry in the future.”
However, his recommendations do not go far enough, say Friends of the Earth.
The charity urged the Government to reconsider its biofuels obligation altogether, rather than just “tinkering” at the margins.
"Feeding cars instead of people pushes up food prices and fuels deforestation,” said Friends of the Earth spokesman Kenneth Richter.
"If we want to quit our expensive and damaging fossil fuel habit we need a new direction in transport - not a quick fix from biofuels.
"Instead of chasing the pipe dream of alternative fuels, the Government must ditch these targets and start helping Britons save petrol and cut emissions now."
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Surprisingly, the Gallagher report was given a warm reception by the biofuels industry.
“Far from being bad news for the industry, the report confirms that biofuels have their role to play, but we must proceed with caution and make sure that biofuels are made from sustainable sources,” said Richard Price, director of Biofuels Media.