memorandum, by Mr Nigel Evans
1. In a context where fossil energies are limited and
access to them is synonymous with national security and given the
alarming state of global warming, using agrofuels as substitutes
for fossil fuels may appear to be a miracle solution.
2. The vast majority of specialists agree today that fossil fuel
consumption is one of the main causes of global warming and climate
change. Among the alternatives to fossil fuels, agriculture is undeniably
of specific interest. Some plants may be used to produce fuels,
to replace the “classic” oil-based fuels.
3. It would seem, however, that the large-scale production of
plants to manufacture “agrofuels” (bio-organic fuel which may be
used in car engines), while helping to cut energy dependence and
fossil fuel consumption, poses problems of another kind. It is a
fact that the allocation of land (formerly used to produce foodstuffs)
to the growing of agrofuels might well have damaging consequences
for food production.
4. Some maintain that the use of agrofuels contributes to or
could even be the cause of a substantial rise in the price of agricultural
produce grown for human and animal consumption. This is what has
happened in South America where rising prices have jeopardised access
to foodstuffs, while maize intended to feed people has been sold
for the production of agrofuels. In addition, the fact that farmers
are opting to grow maize (now more profitable) instead of wheat
has prompted a spectacular increase in the price of the latter foodstuff,
which has become a rare commodity.
5. In Brazil, 6 million vehicles are already running on a blend
of 25% ethanol and petrol. The European Union has set the share
of agrofuels within total fuel consumption at 10% by 2020. It has
even considered the elimination of fallow land, entailing a potential
increase in cereal production from 10 to 17 million tonnes, which should
help to slow the general rise in the price of agricultural produce.
According to the FAO, world cereal production in 2007 reached 2 095
billion tonnes, an increase of 4.8% compared with 2006 – which is
explained at least in part by an increase in the area of farmland
used for agrofuel production. Even so, we should also take into
account the strong rise in food consumption in the large emerging
economies such as China.
6. Furthermore, the crops grown for agrofuel production may be
fertilised with substances not authorised for crops intended for
food production. Yet those substances – particularly when used in
large quantities – may have harmful effects on the environment.
So, paradoxically, agrofuels could have adverse effects on both agriculture
and the environment, as well as on water resources, and also contribute
to deforestation, desertification and famine in certain regions
of the world.
7. It is important, therefore, from both the environmental and
agricultural viewpoints, as well as in a medium and long-term economic
perspective, not to excessively develop this new sector which could
endanger the traditional role of agriculture – namely feeding humankind
– and also damage the world’s environment through undesirable effects
and impoverish and starve certain populations.
8. There are a great many types of agrofuel – ranging
from wood used to cook food to highly sophisticated modern fuels
obtained from purpose-grown biomass.
9. Agricultural residues – such as animal waste products – may
also be used as agrofuels. In some European countries such as Germany,
France and the Netherlands, animal waste is becoming a problem for the
environment. But it can be used for energy production through a
fermentation process. In China, this technology has been used for
over twenty years and there are now 10 million biogas digesters
using animal waste.
10. The vegetable matter used for agrofuels may come from fast-growing
trees, cereals, vegetable oils, agricultural residues or, in the
case of Brazil, sugar cane.
11. Where sugar cane is concerned, for example, either the sugar
or the bagasse may be used as a source of energy. Bagasse is the
cane-waste that remains once the stems have been pressed, and it
is very useful as a fuel, forage-stuff and construction material.
Sugar refineries use the bagasse as an energy source to supply the
heat required for the sugar production process. Modern technology
makes it possible to use bagasse far more efficiently, so that much
of it can be exploited to generate electricity through a normal
fuel-burning power station. In this way, a food industry becomes
an energy-generating industry too.
12. Agrofuels are not a new resource. They were already known
about during the early stages of the car industry: when the combustion
engine came into being, its inventor, Niklaus Otto, anticipated
using ethanol as a fuel. Furthermore, the first diesel engine, named
after its inventor, Rudolf Diesel, ran on peanut oil. And Henry Ford
had thought of using ethanol to run the famous Ford Model T, manufactured
from 1903 to 1926.
13. Following the two oil crises in 1973 and 1979, there was growing
interest in agrofuels. But this enthusiasm soon waned when the price
of oil fell in 1986. Since the turn of the century, there has been
a further upsurge of interest in agrofuels in the context of another
rise in the price of oil, the unstable situation of certain major
oil exporters and a determination to combat the greenhouse effect.
There are two main families of agrofuels: ethanols (for petrol
engines) and agrodiesels (vegetable oil methyl esters (VOME)) for
vehicles running on diesel. At present, agrodiesel is used far more
than ethanol in Europe
in a ratio of 80%:20%. That ratio could change in future,
with the appearance of cars with dual-fuel engines (known as “flex-fuel
“), using a maximum of 85% ethanol for 15% petrol. Ethanols
are derived from sugar beet, wheat, maize or sugar cane. The technique
entails extracting the sugar, directly or by starch hydrolysis in
the case of wheat, and then fermenting and transforming it into
ethanol. Agrodiesels are extracted and transformed from vegetable
oils (rapeseed, sunflower, soya and palm) with the resulting esters
blended with diesel fuels.
In Europe, France is the leading producer of ethanol alcohol,
accounting for 33% of Europe’s production.Note
But Spain remains the leading producer
of ethanol intended for the manufacture of fuels. In the period
2005-06, France produced over 9 million hectolitres of alcohol including
7.6 of alcohol of agricultural origin, sourced from beet (81%) and
16. Globally, the main producers of ethanol of agricultural origin
are the United States (some 200 million hectolitres in 2006) and
Brazil (some 170 million hectolitres in 2006). These two countries
are “models” of industrial agriculture, highly mechanised and geared
to single-crop farming, intensification and modern biotechnologies.
In 2006, the world production of ethanol of agricultural origin
was nearly 500 million hectolitres, with Brazil and the United States
alone providing around three quarters of that volume.
3 The effects on
17. The downside is that agrofuels may in some cases
produce more greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they
are replacing, if we take all the factors in their production chain
into account. Deforestation and changes in land use trigger the
release of large quantities of previously stored CO2;
in addition, there are the gas emissions resulting from the production,
transformation and transportation of agrofuels, much of which is done
by machinery and technologies using oil derivatives and other greenhouse
18. According to a study published in Science magazine,
the climate would be more effectively protected by conserving or
restoring forests and grasslands rather than developing crops for
agrofuel production. The study shows that reforestation would make
it possible to capture between two and nine times more CO2 over
a period of thirty years than would be saved in terms of emissions
through the use of agrofuels over that period.
19. The OECD considers that agrofuels would help to reduce CO2 emissions
by only 3% at best, at a cost of €360 per tonne of CO2 saved,
and criticises the tax incentives offered by some states to agrofuel
20. Moreover, the development of agrofuels is highly controversial
even from the energy balance point of view. More oil is needed to
manufacture agrofuel. In the case of maize-based ethanol, for example,
1.3 kilocalories of oil are needed to produce 1 kilocalorie of bioethanol.
21. In terms of foodstuffs, the quantity of cereals needed to
fill a lorry’s tank with agrofuel could feed one person for a whole
22. It would appear that the harmful effects of agrofuels on health
are by no means negligible either. A study by Stanford University
has shown that the use of ethanol will ultimately cause a considerably
greater public health problem than the present pathologies linked
to hydrocarbon pollution. Ethanol combustion engines escalate the
amounts of ozone toxicity in the air, particularly in cities already
affected by smog. Using ethanol instead of petrol is likely to cause
9% more air pollution-related deaths.
23. Some policy makers (including members of the United Kingdom
Government) have already expressed concerns about what they consider
to be the overly pro-agrofuel leanings of the European Commission,
which has set at 10% the agrofuel content in fuels to be achieved
by 2020, despite the manifold questions thrown up by such fuels.
Germany is preparing to abandon a massive development of agrofuels,
for studies have shown that 10% ethanol content in conventional
petrol may cause premature wear in engines.
24. Similarly, studies conducted, but not published, by the European
Commission’s own scientific department, the Joint Research Centre
(JRC, known in French as the Centre commun
de recherche), have sounded alarm bells: there is too
much uncertainty to be able to say whether or not the European Union’s
10% agrofuel target will bring about greenhouse gas reductions,
and the indirect emissions caused by the use for agrofuel production
of what was previously arable land or woodlands might offset the
benefits that the agrofuels bring. The same studies also say that,
if the intention is to reduce greenhouse gases, it is far more effective
to use biomass to generate electricity than to produce conventional
agrofuels. The same conclusion was reached in a report published
in May 2007 by UN-Energy.
4 The effects on
25. Beyond the ecological concerns, there are other important
issues, focusing on access to land, food sovereignty and famine
on a planetary scale.
26. The swift increase in demand for agrofuels will mean that
thousands of hectares of fertile land will no longer produce food
and will be used to produce fuels instead. This land will be concentrated
in the hands of a few large agri-food multinationals and the energy
sector, resulting in smallholders being “displaced” towards the
misery of over-populated urban centres or converted into landless
27. Similarly, forests will no longer guarantee the subsistence
of thousands of people, the water sources of these regions will
be contaminated and the soils of these already fragile ecosystems
will be gradually exhausted by intensive agriculture and the massive
use of chemicals (many of which are banned for food crops while
tolerated for non-food crops but no less harmful to the environment).
This has already happened in South America (especially in Colombia,
Amazonia and Brazil), where the development of single-crop farming
of soya, sugar cane or African oil palm has led to massive deforestations.
These mechanised monocultures use high doses of fertiliser (such
as atrazine, a very harmful herbicide with endocrine-disrupting
28. Studies have revealed the risks for soil quality of large-scale
exploitation of agrofuels. The findings of one such study in Switzerland
show that farming geared to the production of agrofuels (unfortunately
also known as ”biofuels”, which is likely to cause confusion with
agricultural produce labelled as organic) is incompatible with sustainable
organic farming, as it does not return enough nutrients back into
29. Organic farming hinges on closed cycles of food substances:
the nutrients drawn from the soil are returned to it in the form
of compost, organic fertiliser or manure. In contrast, in the production
of plants for fuel, nearly 100% of the biomass is removed from the
soil farmed. This means that the risk of ensuing soil deterioration
must be reduced by external additives.
30. For these reasons, many farmers’ organisations are condemning
the development of agrofuels as a new form of industrial exploitation
of agriculture, requiring even more arable land, machinery and chemicals
with the likelihood of rapid development of “monoculture deserts”
at the expense of small-holding and family agriculture. They see
this trend as a real threat to their family agriculture as, in the
long term, the multinationals will not only be favoured by permissive
legislation and grants but will also have control over the means
of production (seeds, machines, transport). Farming organisations
are also critical of the emergence of a new lobby around this new energy
source. The issue was raised at the World Forum for Food Sovereignty
(Nyeleni, Mali, 2007), where participants from the five continents
drew attention to the potential excesses and dangers of what might become
a new lobby for a new kind of oil.
31. Moreover, if we consider the situation from an economic viewpoint,
it is clear that the production of fuels from agricultural produce
has already heavily contributed to rising food prices on the world
market, with dramatic consequences for the diets of millions of
32. As explained at the Climate Change Talks in Bangkok in April
2008, every time that a cultivated area is allocated to agrofuels,
the price of the commodity grown rises, in addition to which other
farmers produce more of it, very often by expanding into forests
and pastures (areas which also absorb large amounts of CO2). Furthermore,
the question has been raised of whether the quantity of agrofuels
needed to meet the targets envisaged by the European Commission
can be produced on European soil alone, or whether some imports would
be necessary. As the Chair of the United Kingdom House of Commons
Select Committee responsible for agriculture has said, if the only
way of meeting these targets is to import agrofuels, Europe will
be just as vulnerable as it is because of its dependence on imports
of oil and gas.
33. In March 2008, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nestlé
warned that meeting 20% of the rising demand for oil through agrofuels,
as planned, would leave us with nothing to eat.
5 The advantages
34. The world’s most powerful industries see the development
of agrofuels as a source of substantial profits. The possibility
of government backing through laws and grants makes the prospects
even more enticing. The main players are the car manufacturers (which
hope that the advent of agrofuels will force people to change cars),
oil producers (which control the system of fuel distribution), the
companies that control world trade in grain (which will gain greatly
from both increased demand for agrofuels and higher prices of foodstuffs
which will have to compete with them) and the transnationals producing
35. The other sectors standing to make economic gains are the
large forestry and cellulose transnationals (which produce for the
paper industry today but could, with a minimum of technological
changes, convert to ethanol processing factories) as well as the
industrial manufacturers of chicken and cattle feed, which are considering
the possibility of developing agrodiesel from animal fat.
36. Following severe criticism of the development of
agrofuels (including that expressed by the UN’s special rapporteur
on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, who spoke of a “crime against
humanity”, and by John Lipsky, First Deputy Managing Director of
the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who said that the development
of agrofuels was responsible for 70% of the rise in the price of
maize and 40% of the increase in the soya price), manufacturers
have been trying to perfect a second generation of agrofuels based
on biomass, which would make use of the non-edible part of crops.
37. Second-generation agrofuels will thus no longer be manufactured
from seeds and plants, but using non-edible organic material from
plants, the natural decay of which on the ground helps to create
the humus needed for regeneration, or even using wood taken from
trees. Thus any plant could be used to produce second-generation
38. There nevertheless remain problems that will have to be taken
into account when this second generation is developed: the stock
of humus, which plays a major role in soil fertility and carbon
storage, and the use of wood, which must not give rise to deforestation.
39. There are, however, limited amounts of agricultural residues.
The priority where agrofuels are concerned is therefore productivity.
At the moment, the energy output of second-generation agrofuels
remains very low. It will be at least another ten years before they
are produced in industrial quantities.
40. Germany has, however, decided to play a pioneering role in
the development of second-generation agrofuels. A factory is to
be built which will produce a BTL (biomass to liquid) fuel, with
production scheduled to start at the beginning of 2009. It has been
designed to produce 18 million litres of fuel per year.
41. Another avenue that could be explored in future is that of
microscopic algae, capable of generating an output 30 times higher
than that of terrestrial oleaginous plants. While the price of algae-based
agrofuel would be high, it would still be below the price of oil.
42. The agrofuels “boom” may seem easily justifiable
on the basis of some theories and above all its presentation as
a miracle solution to the world’s energy problems. However, the
more we go into this subject in detail, the clearer it is that the
over-development of agrofuels is causing problems for society.
43. It was somewhat surprising to note that the European Commission
had chosen to give its strong backing to the development of agrofuels
despite the alarm bells rung by scientists, farmers and environmental
activists. The President of the European Commission had acknowledged
the potential environmental problems of agrofuel production but
had stated his assurance that they could be avoided, adding that
more research would improve production. The European Commissioner
for Trade is confident that consumers will pay for agrofuels only
if they have a guarantee that agrofuel production will not pollute
the environment, and the European Commissioner for Energy, for his
part, has affirmed that the development of agrofuels entails significant reductions
in greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to their alternative, namely
oil. Then, in July 2008, the European Commission reconsidered its
position, emphasising that, in fact, its targets did not include
any specific objectives as to the use of agrofuels, but related
to renewable energies.
44. Policy makers in Europe, as in other parts of the world, must
base their action on full and reliable information covering every
area that might be affected by the future development of the agrofuels
industry. That is why this report calls for a moratorium on the
development of first-generation agrofuels, in parallel with efforts to
increase energy efficiency and to promote vehicles which emit less
It would therefore be desirable for Council of Europe member
states and non-member states, as well as the European Commission
and the other international organisations concerned, to start without
further delay the search for a solution which balances the planet’s
fuel needs (especially those of the rich countries) and its food
needs (especially those of the poor countries). In this context,
they should, inter alia
- take better account of the damaging
effects on agriculture and food if the development of agrofuels
is taken too far;
- progressively eliminate all subsidies granted to the producers
- encourage the development of second-generation agrofuels;
- support research into algae-based agrofuels;
- emphasise the development of vehicles which are both less
polluting and more energy-efficient.
Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional
Reference to committee: Doc. 11443 and Reference No. 3398 of 21 January 2008.
Draft resolution adopted
unanimously by the committee on 18 December 2008.
Members of the committee: Mr
Alan Meale (Chair), Mrs Maria Manuela de Melo (1st
Vice-Chairperson), Mr Juha Korkeaoja (2nd Vice-Chairperson),
Mr Cezar Florin Preda (3rd Vice-Chairperson), Mr Ruhi Açikgöz, Mr Miloš Aligrudić, Mr
Alejandro Alonso Núñez, Mr Gerolf Annemans, Mr Miguel Arias Cañete,
Mr Alexander Babakov, Mr Rony Bargetze, Mr Fabio Berardi, Mrs Guðfinna
S. Bjarnadóttir, Mr Ioannis Bougas, Mr Ivan Brajović, Mrs Elvira
Cortajarena Iturrioz, Mr Valeriu Cosarciuc, Mr Taulant Dedja, Mr
Hubert Deittert, Mr Miljenko
Dorić, Mr Gianpaolo Dozzo, Mr Tomasz Dudziński,
Mr József Ékes, Mr Savo Erić, Mr Bill Etherington,
Mr Nigel Evans, Mr Joseph
Falzon (alternate: Mr Joseph Debono
Grech), Mr Gianni Farina, Mr Iván
Farkas, Mr György Frunda, Ms Eva Garcia Pastor, Mr Zahari Georgiev,
Mr Peter Götz, Mr Rafael Huseynov, Mr Jean Huss, Mr Fazail İbrahimli,
Mr Ilie Ilaşcu, Mr Ivan Ivanov,
Mr Igor Ivanovski, Mr Bjørn Jacobsen, Mr Gediminas Jakavonis, Mrs
Danuta Jazłowiecka, Mr Stanisław Kalemba, Mr Ishkhan Khachatryan,
Mr Haluk Koç, Mr Gerhard Kurzmann, Mr Dominique Le Mèner, Mr François
Loncle, Mr Aleksei Lotman, Mrs Kerstin Lundgren (alternate: Mr Kent Olsson), Mr Theo Maissen, Mr Yevhen
Marmazov, Mr Bernard Marquet, Mr Mikheil Matchavariani, Mr José
Mendes Bota, Mr Pasquale Nessa (alternate: Mr Marco Zacchera), Mr Tomislav Nikolić,
Mrs Carina Ohlsson, Mr Joe
O’Reilly, Mr Germinal Peiro (alternate: Mr Jean-François Le Grand), Mr Ivan Popescu, Mr
Jakob Presečnik, Mr René
Rouquet, Mrs Anta Rugāte, Mr Giacinto Russo, Mr Fidias Sarikas,
Mr Herman Scheer, Mr Andreas Schieder, Mr Hans Kristian Skibby (alternate:
Mr Morten Messerschmidt),
Mr Ladislav Skopal, Mr Rainder Steenblock, Mr Valeriy Sudarenkov, Mr
Vilmos Szabo, Mr Vyacheslav Timchenko, Mr Bruno Tobback, Mr Nikolay
Tulaev, Mr Tomas Úlehla, Mr Mustafa Ünal,
Mr Henk van Gerven, Mr Rudolf Vis,
Mr Harm Evert Waalkens, Mr Hansjörg Walter, Mrs Rodoula Zissi.
NB: The names of those members present at the meeting are
printed in bold.
Secretariat to the committee: Mrs
Nollinger, Mr Torcătoriu and Mrs Karanjac.